From time to time, I like to invite other people to share their insights on my website, especially when they are applicable to leaders! This is a guest post from Shira Honig, a Communications Consultant and Policy Professional. You can find out how to reach Shira below the article! 👇
What is leadership? What is communication? Is there anything new to learn, and even better, to apply about these concepts, after millions of words have been written on both?
Here’s what I’ve seen in my career so far, and what I believe based on those observations. None of these are new or groundbreaking. But I believe they’re foundational. So foundational, in fact, that we may forget to apply them in our day-to-day.
1. Lead From Wherever You Are
My first observation is that the most effective leaders I’ve come across recognise that leadership isn’t just about a position. It’s about qualities that a person exhibits in their life or work.
In other words, leadership can come from anywhere, anyone, at any time, depending on what needs to be done and their approach to the work. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a C-suite executive, a 22-year old assistant, or a 53-year old mid-level analyst.
The most effective executives and managers treat their teams and others in their organisation accordingly and show genuine interest in their staff, regardless of whether they are a direct report. This might mean simply asking for their opinions and ideas, or just how they’re doing that day.
2. Leadership and Communication are Synonymous
The second observation is that leadership and communication are intricately linked. One doesn’t exist without the other. That’s because the most effective leaders tend to be the most effective communicators.
While some leaders lie and still manage to obtain the trust of an audience, that trust isn’t lasting. The most widely effective and trusted leaders are consistently honest and authentic, and can gain the trust of internal and external audiences over the long term.
But in order to be honest with others, people first need to be honest with themselves. That is why the most effective leaders don’t simply listen to “yes men and women”.
They seek the advice of people outside their circle or sphere of influence, or those who can help them test the limits of their assumptions and ideas, plans and projects.
Once leaders are honest with themselves, they are better able to communicate authentically with their staff or external audiences, and that not only leads to trust, but also to clarity.
3. Clarity is Critical to All Effective Communication
Clarity is a critical and under-studied component of leadership and communication. The most effective leaders are clear about who they are, who they are not, what they doing, and what they are not doing.
They say what they mean, avoid jargon, know who their audience is, and they seek to clear up confusion where it exists. If you are a leader, it’s wise to check if your people are ever unclear about something you’ve communicated.
If you are not regularly checking in with them, you won’t know if they’re confused, what they’re confused about, or how to fix it.
A timely example that shows these concepts in action is in how political leaders have communicated about the COVID19 pandemic. The most effective leaders have been honest in their communications about precisely what the public can and can’t do, and when.
This has provided the public with clear expectations. These leaders have also clearly communicated the purpose of these guidelines, which has helped to avoid any confusion or appearance of arbitrary rules.
4. Anticipate the Reaction to What You Communicate
As with any form of communication, there is the giving (you presenting the information) and the receiving (the reaction your audience will have to it). It will be difficult for you to take next steps if you’re not at least somewhat prepared for your audience’s reaction.
In the case of the pandemic, some people will follow the rules and some will break them, so a level of enforcement is needed, as well as crystal clear guidelines. Those who are inclined to follow the rules will know what to do.
Those who are inclined to break them will know more precisely what to break and can adjust depending on the situation. And in fact, if your audience trusts your honesty and judgment, they are more likely to follow the rules in the first place.
On the other hand, a leader who communicates messages that are mixed, unclear, or that suggest an arbitrary preference ultimately serve no one. Further, if a leader is communicating this way despite receiving advice that this type of communication is ineffective, they are demonstrating an unwillingness to listen to those who are telling him or her they are frustrated and confused.
The lesson for leaders here is to be clear in their messaging, seek outside advice if they’re unsure about something. They should also demonstrate an understanding of how their audience will receive the information, and clearly explain the purpose behind their response.
Listening Underpins All Effective Communication
Ultimately, though, the most important part of communication for leadership is listening. The best leaders listen genuinely, show humility and empathy, and don’t make assumptions about their audience (whether it’s one person or 10,000 people).
Listening – to people in and outside your team – can lead to new ideas and perspectives where you least expect them.
None of this is easy, especially when you’re caught up in the day-to-day busyness of work life. But if you lead and communicate in these ways, you’ll be far more effective, and far more likely to find your work rewarding.
This is a guest post by Shira Honig. Shira is a public affairs and communications professional currently living in Canada.
For more information about her and her services, visit shirahonig.com.