The currency of leadership is communication. In many organizations, there is a poverty of communication, with leaders infrequently transmitting information while also conveying too little meaning.
No one thing makes for effective leadership. The attributes and characteristics are too many and too diverse, and you cannot contain them in a singular idea. Effective leadership requires relentless communication.
Effective communication provides a sense of certainty to the people you lead. Your team wants to know where you are leading them and why you have made the decisions you are asking them to execute.
A lack of communication can cause people to feel a sense of uncertainty. When you make significant decisions (and even some relatively insignificant decisions), some people will fear that something is wrong. They worry that things are going to change for them. In the disruptive age in which you operate now, the remedy for uncertainty and worry is more communication.
Effective communication requires you to provide the context for the decision. Why did you decide to take the course of action you believe necessary, and what future result you are going to ask your team to help you deliver?
When people believe they make a difference, they perform better. Leaders whose leadership style is to communicate their recognition and gratitude for their team’s contributions improve their team’s performance by making ever person feel valued.
The people in your charge want to know that the work they do is positive and that it makes a difference in the world. Most want to believe in their company’s mission and vision, the primary obstacle being their leader’s failure to communicate it frequently enough, if they ever mention it. As a leader, modeling the communication about your mission and vision is how you inspire your teams.
There is another type of significance that is equally important. Your teams—and the individuals who comprise them—want to know that they are doing good work, contributing something positive and that their work is appreciated. More—and more frequent—communication increases significance.
Developing Collective Beliefs
By itself, communicating what is good and right and true helps to establish a positive culture. Maintaining it requires constant vigilance and firm action in line with your values. Talking about why you believe what you believe provides other people with an idea of your values.
Once a great leader shared with me that he felt that he was over-communicating the things he needed his team to believe. He asked if I thought he needed to change his message, to freshen it up.
My advice was not to change anything. He needed to reinforce it at every opportunity that he was converting the uncovered. To maintain communication, he swapped out data and stories and stayed on point.
You are better off believing you are under-communicating the things that matter most than worrying about over-communicating. If you want your teams to share your beliefs and act on them, you must never stop communicating these things.
If there is a leadership challenge that destroys results faster than most other problems, a lack of alignment is somewhere near the top of that list. Creating alignment is driven by communication.
Imagine a crew rowing in a specific direction with one person using their paddle to turn them in a way that moves them off course. The lack of alignment will pull them in the wrong direction, no matter how fast that paddle and no matter how hard they work. The person with the paddle has to align their efforts with the rest of their team—and quickly.
Alignment is difficult to create. People have different ideas, different opinions, conflicting priorities, and resource constraints that create conflicts. Those conflicts show up as issues that require a resolution. Like all other leadership challenges, more communication, broadly and individually, is what is necessary to create alignment.
Outcomes and Execution
You must never stop talking about the outcomes you need if you hope to create a culture of accountability. Communicating what you expect of your team members requires constant communication, and it’s part of what makes you an effective leader.
Accountability starts with sharing what you expect of people. It is only maintained when the results are measured and communicated. Everyone loves to deliver good results; few want to report poor results. It falls to the leader to communicate both, especially if they would create a culture of accountability.
Results, or outcomes, are the result of execution, the variable in the results leaders produce. Making the outcomes known and sharing the results—including any gaps—is the starting point for the conversations about improvements.
Better results start with better—and relentless—communication. Good leaders believe every interaction is an opportunity to share what they want their people to know, believe, and produce.