The primary purpose of leadership in business is to inspire, engage and motivate people to achieve results.
When people are inspired, engaged and motivated, they give their best. They move beyond obligatory effort to discretionary effort, innovation and creativity increase, and performance builds.
This improves leaders' performance too – they can focus on the right things, with far less time spent resolving energy-draining conflicts and managing pointless politics. Business results rocket.
Easy to write, but so challenging in reality!
People get tired; they think the goals should be different or don't understand them; they get frustrated and sulky; the reality of life's demands gets in the way; colleagues dislike each other; self-interest becomes a stronger driver than meeting the needs of the organisation. The list of challenges that leaders face on the road to an inspired, engaged and motivated workforce is lengthy!
But time after time, research demonstrates that the one tool that leaders can draw on to resolve these difficulties and build that inspired, engaged and motivated team is great communication. Examples include:
- David MacLeod & Nita Clarke discuss the links between communication and employee engagement in their report to the UK government, Engaging for Success
- The Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS) at Cornell University has conducted extensive research, publishing white papers such as Communicating for Engagement
- Professor Helen Francis at Edinburgh Napier University has carried out research that demonstrates the direct link between the way that leaders communicate and individuals' engagement with their organisations
Here's why the link between the way leaders communicate and the results people achieve is so powerful:
1. Leaders inspire, engage and motivate people through the way they communicate with them – and the ways they fail to communicate with them too.
2. Every communication that takes place, or fails to take place, between a leader and the people they lead matters – whether that communication is one-to-one or one-to-many – because every communication either improves or damages the relationship between the leader and those they lead. The positive or negative impact of each communication may be tiny, but many tiny positive impacts build good relationships. Many tiny negative impacts destroy them. For this reason, leaders cannot afford to treat any communication with their team as a throwaway commodity because every communication is ultimately affecting business results.
3. Lots of great communication builds great relationships and this in turn builds engagement. As human beings we willingly engage with people with whom we have a good relationship and we avoid those with whom we don't. We are influenced and inspired by people we like (one of Cialdini's 'Six Principles of Influence') and we are turned off by those we don't. The age-old saying "people don't leave organisations, they leave bosses" has particular resonance here.
4. When we are inspired, engaged and motivated we respond positively. We work better, we give that extra effort and we get better results.
5. This builds a 'positive spiral' of achievement. When we work better – when we give that extra effort and realise the improved results that this brings – we become even more inspired, engaged and motivated; success breeds success. We become more productive personally, as a team, as a division and ultimately as an organisation.
If you are a CEO or Managing Director seeking to improve business results, ensuring that your leaders are all strong communicators is an essential area for review and investment. If you are a leader who is keen to build your team's results, then reviewing the way you communicate with the people you lead is a must. An honest assessment of communication capability is essential because the quality of leadership communication is often an area of delusion – research shows that leaders typically believe they are good communicators, while the people that they lead usually disagree.
Making an honest assessment of leadership communication – whether organisationally or individually – and acting to improve it where necessary is a valuable investment. Why? Because, ultimately, if your leaders fail to communicate well, the people they lead will fail too.
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