Leaders need to be heard and clearly understood above the constant noise of the complicated worlds in which they must lead or govern. The stakes in this new communication environment are high. How high?
In survey after survey, the data suggests that leadership communication — for organizations and brands — is critical to trust, reputation, and approval. But some studies report that high-value communication is getting short shrift from organizational leaders. Many leaders still seem to underappreciate — and underperform — their vital communication responsibilities to their many stakeholders, particularly their employees.
A recent Gallup study found that only 13 percent of American employees think that the leadership of their companies communicates effectively with the rest of the organization. And only 15 percent believe that their companies’ leadership inspires enthusiasm about the future.
In addition to Gallup, you can look at recent studies from the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor, the Golin- U.S.C. Annenberg Global Relevance Review, PwC’s Global CEO Survey, and other sources. The pattern is similar. If leaders are not motivating and driving desired behaviors, aren’t they risking organizational complacency, irrelevance, and even failure? Of course. At the same time, it has been demonstrated that leadership can add substantial value to enterprise performance, marketplace advantage, and the loyalty of customers, workers, members, and other constituencies. How so?
• Communication provides the thematic skyway for people to visualize the pinnacle of performance. That’s why leaders must clearly tell people what they expect, congratulate them when they deliver on those expectations, and then tell them what they need to do next.
• Strong cultures can be extremely productive so long as their leadership continually leads them forward, in both words and actions. That means continuously communicating new threats and opportunities, while reminding everyone what made them historically successful, if not dominant, in the past.
• Leadership communication is the oxygen that breathes purpose, passion, and personalized meaning into the organization. It provides the “why us?” narrative, explaining why the organization exists and what makes its products, services, and standards superior to the rest.
• Leaders also may be in a better position to head off existential risks before they occur, through better vertical and lateral communication within their organizations.
But with leadership, communication must come results. Active leadership communication alone will not Teflon-coat a leader in every situation. A leader’s strengths and style as a communicator can be a difference. There is so much emphasis on short-term performance that visionaries trying to change the game must get beyond promises and projections and prove that it’s working. Leaders who wish to be taken seriously need to take seriously what they say and the communications advice they receive.