Leadership and Communication: the missing link?

Loud hailer

Our recently completed programme ‘Leadership Communication in a Challenging Context’ for visiting overseas government officials, caused me to reflect on how leadership style and communication style are often very strongly interlinked.

Much is written about Leadership Style, and most of the theories, models and concepts identify quite rightly that a wide range of styles are available. Most commentators suggest adopting the most appropriate style for the circumstances and context, from the range of options available.  I have no problem with this.  However, these leadership styles often tell people what to do and not how to do it.  Messages in a “Tell” type of Leadership style can be delivered in both an authoritative manner or in a friendlier relationship-orientated manner. In the English language, the difference is not only one of the choice of words, but also in the tone of voice and body language used in the communication.

Similarly, messages in a fully “Collaborative” or “Delegating” leadership style (often considered the best or optimum style) might be delivered using words, tone of voice and body language that do not match perceived intentions.

What IS Effective Leadership?

I am going to be bold and suggest that we should think of this as being more about effective communication rather than just leadership. In other words, this is more about relationships and behaviour.

Is Leadership then really a Communication style?

Well yes, it might be. If we think about those who are considered to be great leaders in history, many were great orators, communicating in a way that appealed, galvanising support and acceptance by whole communities (even though what they were leading, turned out in some cases to be the horrors of war and genocide!).

My view has been for a long time that how you communicate actually defines your leadership style.  Personal presentation and public speaking are skills to be learnt as are essential skills in using appropriate ‘behaviours’ when writing reports and emails. More recently, this has been made a bit more complicated with the popularity of so many social-media platforms, many of which have their own individual sub-sets of acceptable protocols and conventions.

tin cans 2

Our Presentation skills, Public Speaking skills and Communications programmes, like the one we have just completed with senior staff in the Cambodian Government, all build upon that notion that effective leadership is also really effective communication. Some of these core summary elements include:

  1. Information without feedback is just that, information. Effective communication is always two-way, something that many leaders forget (or choose to forget)

  2. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that that the message is not only received by the recipient, but also understood in the way intended

  3. Leaders need to carefully choose the mode and channel for their message and grasp that different audiences will want messages in ways that are suitable to them and their contexts

  4. In the noisy and busy world that we now live in, leaders also need to accept that messages need to be both meaningful and If the message is not easy to understand or there is doubt about how it applies to the receiver, they will tune out, switch off and even find an alternative message they prefer, from elsewhere.

  5. Leaders must seek appropriate feedback, and recognise that there is a large difference between hearing and understanding. Hopefully, this understanding will allow the leader (and fellow leaders) to do some tangible things to address what the senders of this feedback want to be done differently.

Some things to think about (and then act upon!).

  • How does your own communication style affect your overall leadership effectiveness?
  • When was the last time you sought and genuinely acted upon some feedback?
  • How do you really know that you communicate effectively?

communication cartoon

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