Leadership and communication are so intertwined that they could be thought of as synonymous. It is important to remember that in this case, the term communication is shaped more by what employees feel, hear and perceive, rather than what the leader says.
People in the organization observe the verbal and nonverbal communications from executives. They look for clues as to the authenticity of these executives, and whether they can be trusted as leaders. The people also look at the congruence between what leaders say and do. They look to determine if “the walk matches the talk”.
Here are 5 essential leadership commitments that must be made in communication to transform organizations:
1.) Develop High Integrity Capacity
The level of congruence between words and action is essential in establishing the credibility of the executives. Petrick and Quinn call this congruence “high integrity capacity” — a coherent unity of purpose and action in the face of moral complexity and conflicting values. Building the level of integrity capacity is crucial for action and communication in transformation, given that a transformation invariably includes challenges as well giving up the comport of old ways of doing things.
In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner point out that this important congruence includes the relationship between the leader’s stated values and priorities for constituents and his/her own behavior. “If customer service is important, find time to spend with customers. If your message is that ‘we’re all in this together,’ then make certain your own actions reinforce this message.”
Too often I have seen the stated purpose and values be horribly at odds with the executive’s behavior. As an example, I was working at a paper mill in Louisiana that was in the midst of a very difficult market and was having major operational problems with a capital expansion. The COO of the company concluded that job cuts were required to lower costs, even though this facility was not particularly overstaffed. On the morning that these difficult actions were to occur, the COO came flying in on a very expensive private jet (the latest Gulfstream), delivered a speech about the importance of cutting costs, and then jumped on the plane and flew back out. Needless to say, the executive’s actions were highly inconsistent with the words. Until the point when credibility is established, leadership communication will be ignored by many people in the business. In the example just described, the executive’s presence and speech made things worse for the facility management, rather than better.
2.) Align Communication with Transformation
Accountability is demonstrated by leadership communication that is designed to promote the transformation. This transformative communication includes a clear, comprehensive description of the reasons for the transformation, what the transformation will accomplish for the business and what the impacts will be on employees and other stakeholders. Leadership communication is not a one-time thing. Nor is it putting a video on the employee’s web sites.
Communicating with others about the transformation is a prime means of establishing and sustaining accountability. Ultimately, communications matter when people know what is expected of them, how this change will affect them personally, how you are enabling them to be successful in managing the change, and how the transformation will benefit the business and employees as a group.
3.) Learn to Acknowledge
Acknowledgement is a key element in effective communication and accountability. Yet a conversation for acknowledgement is often hard for people in business. We can usually describe all of the defects and limitations. Even in the face of a big accomplishment, we are prone to look at all the things that could have been done better. As an executive leader of transformation, you want to be aware of this tendency to focus on the problems and what is wrong.
Leadership Communication and accountability promotes acknowledgment, candor, forthrightness and honesty. All of these are attributes of effective leadership communication. Leadership accountability is essential in building and sustaining a climate of trust in leaders. Leadership inspires via communication. Communication is both action and word. As an example, acting with accountability is a strong communication. The opposite is valid as well, that is acting with a lack of accountability is a strong communication.
4.) Promote Ownership
A company with thriving accountability promotes “ownership” by employees of their portion of the business. This means developing ownership of the problems and lack of results, of creating innovative solutions to address the problems and increase results. It means taking ownership of the initiatives, people and results. These are all the things that a leader wants to see in a business, and are examples of what is evident when a business is transforming.
5.) Establish Metrics and Accountability Structures
Accountability establishes metrics and ultimately the needed measure and controls. Through the accountability structures, the employees and the leaders can see what is and what isn’t on track. Through accountability structures, employees and leaders can make important observations:
- Whether they’re on the right course
- Whether they’ve got the right people, and people in the right places
- Whether they’re achieving goals
- What is needed to institute change and target new results
Accountability leads and promotes transformation. Communication by leaders is essential in transformation, and accountability is at the heart of empowering people to become engaged in performance improvements and transformation.
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