Freelance contribution from Gemma Stones
In a world of real-time multimedia information managing communication is a modern day challenge. Leaders must actively manage the constant flow of emails, tweets, pins and social media updates as well as initiating their own important conversations.
Prioritizing effective communications is crucial and according to a recent poll is the single most important attribute expected from leaders today. The results of the study conducted by public relations firm Ketchum showed that open, transparent communication is an essential ingredient in the recipe for effective leadership. In the context of this expectation and the continual flow of data how is it possible to get on with the day job of running the company? Here we look at three tips for communication management drawing on the advice of some of the world’s most inspirational leaders.
1. Define the Core Message- and Stick to it
Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz is well renowned as a corporate force to be reckoned with. Having established and successfully led the global coffee giant firm the only major mistake Schultz ever seems to have made is to try to retire – a decision he thankfully reversed. One of the key tenants of his impressive reign at Starbucks is the importance he places on the corporate message surrounding the all important brand. Schultz’s approach is based firmly on passion, rather than the product in question – coffee.
Despite the fact that Starbucks is indeed a coffee company, Schultz would argue that the essence of the company brand is his passion to create an organization which supports the people who work for it and creates an experience for those who buy from it. Schultz’s father knew what it was like to work for a company without these values and this has no doubt been a major driver of Schultz’s desire to be an employer who treats people with dignity and respect. Being the first American company to offer all employees comprehensive health insurance and opportunities to buy into the company through stock options must have been a costly decision but Schultz stuck to his guns. Schultz continues to lead through his passionate commitment to the common purpose of Starbucks ethos, which is summed up in this quote from the man himself,
“Dream more than others think practical. Expect more than others think possible. Care more than others think wise.”
2. Find the Right Frequency
Successful communicators are adept at tuning into their audience and then broadcasting in a way which effectively reaches their frequency. This is rarely a natural talent, rather it requires extensive research and relentless fine tuning of the message you want to deliver. A famous example of this can be found in Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister who led the country to victory in the Second World War. Churchill may have been an accomplished statesman and writer but it was his inspiring speeches which supported the British people through the ups and downs of its war journey. Winston Churchill focused on crafting his message to meet the needs of the audience which he was addressing, whether this was government colleagues, Parliament or the British people. He was not a natural orator, and found public speaking particularly difficult due to a speech impediment. His persistence and perseverance in researching, rehearsing and editing his many speeches were the key components to his success. Churchill was also a fan of injecting a little humor into his comments, when appropriate of course,
“In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”
3. Keep Listening
Speech making is all very well and good but it should not be forgotten that one of the most critical communication skills is of course listening. Two key aspects of this skill are summed up rather handily by two of the world’s most influential leadership thinkers – Stephen R. Covey and Peter F. Drucker. In this first quote, Covey encapsulates the problem found with many people’s approach to listening,
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Employees often complain that their managers do not listen, when what they really want is a manager who does more than just hear the words. Active listening should not be about getting ready with the next comment; it should be about absorbing the information and reflecting on it. Listening requires an awareness of facial expressions and body language – not just being quiet and giving the individual your full attention.
Drucker takes things a step further as he suggests that,
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
This requires the leader to tap into the deeper meaning of conversations to identify the real issues which need to be addressed. This style of empathetic listening involves assuming the position of the speaker in order to get a real insight into what they are actually saying. Getting to the heart of the issue means setting aside any personal prejudices or positions until the interaction is concluded.
Today’s information overload may be an ongoing challenge, but for leaders as always the job is to take control. Leaders must remain in charge of their communication strategy and responsible for its execution. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has observed,
“Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn’t help us know what to say.”