Developing leaders’ communication skills to a high standard is undoubtedly one of the most important investments any business can make. It ranks right up there with investing in up-to-date technology, attracting the best talent and building great customer relations.
What is the basis for this bold claim? Well, pick up any book on leadership and you will find constant reference to the impact of the way leaders communicate.
- Strategy? Pointless unless people understand it and want to make it a reality.
- Innovation? Won’t happen unless individuals feel engaged and free to challenge the status quo.
- Corporate Social Responsibility? Has to be something everyone cares about if you want to pay more than lip service.
And how do you make any of this happen? You get leaders communicating in a way that ensures:
- People understand the message
- They buy into it
- And are motivated to do something as a result
Great leadership communication is at the heart of building an engaged workforce too. Last year Professor Helen Francis, Head of the People & Organisational Development (POD) Division at Edinburgh Napier University, carried out important new research that demonstrates the direct link between the way that leaders communicate and individuals' engagement with their organisations.
There’s no getting away from it. The way your leaders communicate really matters.
But just what is leadership communication? It’s every interaction that your leaders have – or indeed fail to have – with the people they lead. It impacts everybody, everyday.
And yet it's such an intrinsic part of your organisation that, too often, its impact is not consciously noticed. In a recent conversation with an executive from a global insurance business, we got talking about some excellent results they'd achieved in terms of building greater employee engagement. I asked how important leadership communication had been. His response – "not very!"
Naturally I was intrigued to find out how this large business had realised great gains in their employee engagement levels without focussing on leadership communication, so I dug deeper.
On exploration, it became apparent that leadership communication was central to everything the business had achieved. Leaders were:
- Listening to their people – at last!
- More open to being challenged and to receiving feedback about how things could improve
- Coaching their teams and giving feedback more consistently
- Sharing more information about the business in a way that people understood
Communication, communication, communication!
And yet, despite overwhelming evidence of its importance, far too many organisations continue to pay insufficient or piecemeal attention to this critical leadership attribute.
And far too often, any investment in developing it stops at supervisory level – it's assumed that middle and senior managers already have sufficient skill in this area. The simple fact is they don't – and this is costing businesses dearly.
If you are serious about driving up results in your organisation, of course invest in the ground-breaking technology. Bring in the top-class talent. Make sure your customer relations are top notch.
Just remember to invest in building your leaders’ ability to communicate too – that way you'll maximise investment in every other aspect of your business and realise ROI that exceeds your expectations.
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