It may be a phrase that you’ve heard someone mention before or something on your radar but you have not had the opportunity to research into what it means. However, chances are you are not yet aware of the scale in which leadership communications can impact your cooperation. Leadership Communications is about much more than just the words a Leader uses, it is about how they come across to those around them and the impact this has on the effectiveness of their message. A leader that can communicate well, can make all the difference when it comes to team performance.
As explained in our interview with communications expert, Matt Burgess, “you can have the greatest strategy in the world, you can have the greatest product in the world, the greatest idea in the world, the greatest solution but unless you’re putting across that strategy, product, idea or solution in a way that is, not only engaging people, but in a way that is aligned with the message itself, then the impact you’re having on people is obviously less effective then it would be but if you take it to its worst case scenario it can be very very negative.”
Carry on reading, or watch Matt’s interview to not only discover what great leadership communication looks like but also discover the single most essential tool that you should be using to improve how you communicate.
How would you define great leadership communication?
At its simplest level, it is about how a leader, he or she, affects the people that they are around through the way they communicate, through the way they behave. I do an exercise with leaders all over the world where we talk about getting them to define what great leadership communication is. If you had a group of great leaders in front of you what would they do? How would they affect us? And there is pretty much always a consensus that what great leadership communication is about is the leader’s ability to inspire, the leader’s ability to motivate. Perhaps when we are low performing what it is that we do that takes us to high performance.
To use a sporting analogy, you’re 2-0 down at half-time, what is it that the leader says or does that allows you to change the outcome of that match. And while yes, that does have its place in great leadership communication, at Mission Performance we would argue that it’s about something very different from that. For us great leadership communication is about doing little things, simple things, repeatedly very very well. Essentially, it’s about building relationships.
So, why is relationship building so important for leaders?
Because you can have the greatest strategy in the world, you can have the greatest product in the world, the greatest idea in the world, the greatest solution but unless you’re putting across that strategy, product, idea or solution in a way that is, not only engaging people, but in a way that is aligned with the message itself, then the impact you’re having on people is obviously less effective then it would be but if you take it to its worst case scenario it can be very very negative.
There’s something else that it’s about as well and it’s about culture. We’ve done a lot of work with the Clipper round the world yacht race. We’ve worked with them as leadership development partner, we were a lead sponsor for one of the boats but more particularly for this conversation we design and deliver the communication training that each of the skippers receives before they go out into the race. And if there is one thing that we have learned from them, if there is one thing that I have learned from them it is this… whether you like it or not, whether it’s good or bad, as a leader you pretty much get the culture you deserve.
If you’re communicating and building relationships in one way it will affect culture and performance in that way. If you’re doing it in a different way, then you’re going to have a different effect on the culture, the organisation and a different effect on performance levels. We don’t work with people on their communication because it’s fun and enjoyable and makes people feel good, that’s part of it, we work on communication with people because fundamentally it affects performance in organisations.
Are there any qualities that all great leaders share?
I heard somebody else say this, but the more I experience working with leaders and the great leaders, I see them do this repeatedly. The first thing is that they’re authentic. They don’t put on a big performance when they lead. They don’t change particularly. They’re people that we believe. I’ve worked with some less experienced leaders who sort of believe they have to go into “leadership mode” and it doesn’t quite work, it doesn’t translate.
The second thing that great leaders have in common, I would suggest, and this is a slightly more complicated idea, is that they’re pretty vulnerable. They’re very very human. In everything they do, they have a way of putting other people at the centre of everything, which is an extremely appealing quality. I’m loathed to say that you like them because you might not like the message that they’re putting across but there is something about that person that ensures that you understand that things matter to them and if they matter to them chances are they are going to matter to you.
How does Mission Performance help leaders to develop those qualities?
In various different ways, but it always starts with the first thing which is listening to people. We work with people on one to one coaching, we work with groups, invariably we are doing the same thing when we do that, which is giving people an understanding of how they currently impact the people around them. Whether that is having a one to one conversation with somebody or standing in front of 1000 people when you’re presenting, what is it that you’re doing through the way you’re behaving?
We then work with them using a series of tools, the human toolkit if you want, of communication. Looking specifically at what people do physically, what people do verbally, gesture, eye contact, energy states, all of those things that help you align the message that you are putting across.
One thing that we certainly don’t do, my background is in performance, I’m an actor and many of the communications team at Mission Performance come from that background as well, what we are not doing is teaching people how to act, it’s got nothing to do with that. It is about turning up the things that can help you in the way you’re putting across a message and turning down the stuff that is slightly getting in the way. I come back to that authentic thing. If you’re putting on a big display and we don’t believe it, that isn’t what I suggest to you is what great leadership is about.
What is the single most essential communications tool for leaders?
It would be something that I haven’t mentioned yet, which is listening. Listening for me is at the heartbeat of everything that great leaders do. I would go slightly further than that and I would suggest to you that if you’re not listening you’re not leading. I would suggest that those two things go hand in hand. Two things that don’t necessarily go hand in hand are management and leadership, two very different things. Management is something that you get given, leadership is a choice. Sometimes you meet people where those two things are aligned, quite often you meet people where those two things aren’t aligned and that’s where you make the choice, “ok I’m in this position of management, now I am going to lead” and that would start with your ability to listen to others.