What is leadership communication?
Leadership communication is more than how leaders communicate with their employees. It’s how they inspire them to buy into a shared vision, mission, and core values.
Good leaders are good communicators. Effective communicators share common traits. They are clear, open, empathetic, inclusive, and inspiring. By incorporating these characteristics into their communications, they can build trust and loyalty. They can also guide their organization through times of change or uncertainty. Workers will lean into leaders who offer stability and humanity. This is what sets them apart from mediocre leaders who fail to engage with their employees.
Why is leadership communication important?
Leadership communication has never been more important. The events of the past two years have led to a massive increase in misinformation. Dubbed an infodemic, this refers to the rapid spreading of information, accurate and inaccurate, in the digital age. In this environment, it can be difficult to know what information or which sources to trust.
According to Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer, the trust bubble has burst. Trust has dipped for government leaders, CEOs, journalists and even religious leaders. CEOs are facing a serious issue as their trust levels plummet to record lows. But there is opportunity there. Trust in business has jumped. In fact, it was the only trusted institution in the Edelman survey. This spells opportunity for business and business leaders to fill the trust gap. To do that businesses need to focus on protecting the quality of information. They also need to make sure that reliable information goes out to their employees. This in turn ensures that the community at large are getting more trustworthy information. Over half of respondents (53 percent) said in the absence of news media, businesses need to fill the void.
It’s common for business leaders to stay silent if they don’t have the full picture. They should, in fact, do the opposite, says communication expert Zora Artis, speaking at a Visible Thread webinar. “If there’s a void, people will fill it, but with the wrong information. This develops into a bigger problem. If you can’t be clear on what’s going on, you can still share the context. Be open and communicate so that people can understand the situation.”
In any period of uncertainty and anxiety, simply being there can make a huge difference, says Zora. “Leaders should take the opportunity to talk about that anxiety. Show that they are comfortable having a conversation. This is particularly important around topics like diversity, equality and inclusion. Leaders who can talk to employees about something that’s worrying them are building trust. That’s a great position to be in. Employees will go that extra mile for leaders they trust.”
Not all leaders are comfortable communicating with employees. Over two-thirds (69%) of managers said they feel uncomfortable communicating with employees. This means that leaders who do build their leadership communication skills will have an advantage.
Six leadership communication best practices
Different communication styles are one of the main barriers of communication in the workplace. There are four distinct communication styles, each unique and with different priorities. A good leader needs to understand their communication and leadership style. In this way, they can get a better idea of how their communication is received by employees. A good leader will understand their specific communication style, while also appealing to a wider audience. They will be able to communicate in different styles.
Empathy is the top leadership skill in today’s work environment. There’s a reason for this. Workplace stress and burnout is at an all-time high. Workers are quicker now to leave jobs where they are unhappy or not valued. The Great Resignation saw 19 million Americans quit their jobs between April and September 2021. Empathy is best summed up as putting yourself in another person’s shoes to understand how they are feeling. For today’s workers, an empathetic boss is a game changer. Almost 90% of US employees say empathy makes for better leadership. In addition, 88% say it nurtures loyalty, and 87% say it builds trust.
Being open and honest are valuable traits of effective leadership communication. By being transparent, employees have a better sense of the organization, their managers, and what’s expected of them. This last part is important. Only half of US workers said they understood what’s expected of them. This inevitably leads to misunderstandings, disengagement, and higher levels of employee dissatisfaction. Influential business leader Denise Morrison sums it up. “The single most important ingredient in the recipe for success is transparency because transparency builds trust.”
Seek and give feedback
Looking for and acting on feedback will win the trust of most employees. It displays a desire to understand employees’ challenges and make positive changes where necessary. In the spirit of transparency, it’s also important to keep employees up to date on how you are implementing feedback. When offering feedback, it’s important to be direct and clear. Use active voice instead of passive voice so there is no ambiguity. Don’t leave room for misunderstanding. Some feedback may not be welcome, but it is necessary to be consistent and communicate that feedback anyway.
Clarity is critical in any communication but especially in leadership communication. Employees are looking to leaders to guide them. But guidance needs to be clear, and not confusing. You should use plain language in any communication. Avoid jargon, complex words, and long sentences. This will ensure that as many people as possible will understand your message.
Consistency is a vital trait of leadership communication. Through consistent communication, leaders can develop trust. Employees need to know where their leaders stand. Consistency leads to reliability. In the face of change and uncertainty, stability is important. Leaders should be consistent in all aspects of their communication.
- Regularity. You should establish a communication pattern and stick with it. This can be weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Employees will learn to expect updates and will value the content and consistency.
- Tone of voice. The language you use is so important. From the words you use to the tone of voice, these need to be consistent. Employees will recognize a leader’s ‘voice’ and respect the message they are communicating.
- Message. Make sure you’re always aligning your message with the company purpose, vision, and values. This will help to connect workers with your organization and the way you’re working.
Examples of effective leadership communications
In the business world, there are many examples of effective leadership communications. One who stands out is Indra Nooyi, who became CEO of PepsiCo in 2006. Her communication style reinforces what we said earlier about the importance of transparency. All of her communications with employees were forthright. If she saw or made mistakes, she highlighted them. Her approach bore fruit for PepsiCo. Before she came on board the company was facing an uncertain future. After her appointment, revenue grew from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017.
We’ve already mentioned Denise Morrison. She became the first female CEO of Campbell Soup Company in 2011. Her approach to communications was to be authentic and transparent. One of her famous quotes (and there are many) cites authenticity as key. “What people look for in their leaders is authenticity. You say, ‘I’m not going to ask you to do anything that I’m not going to do myself.’ ” Fortune Magazine named Morrison the 21st most powerful woman in business in 2011. Her focus on transparent communication has been key to the successful transformation of Campbell Soup. The organization became the first major food company to disclose the presence of GMOs in its products. It also launched a website called What’s In My Food for consumers to check products’ ingredients.
What we’re seeing here is a direct link between transparency and trust. These are the building blocks of effective leadership communications. Wrapped around these two traits is clarity. At the end of the day, leadership communication needs to be clear. People need to understand it to be able to engage with it.
How can VT Writer help with leadership communication?
Complexity creates barriers in communication, which in turn erode trust. VT Writer can help leaders to develop their own communication style by:
- Measuring the clarity of your communications and making sure your message is as clear and accurate as possible
- Identifying long sentences, and complex language, which can lead to confusion
- Helping to cut out passive voice so there is no ambiguity on roles and responsibilities
- Creating a style guide, so all communication is consistent in tone, messaging, and alignment
Simplicity and clarity go a long way towards creating effective leadership communication. Messaging needs to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible. In any organization, it’s important that groups of employees are not isolated because of ineffective communication.