If I have one critique of Burnison’s Twelve Absolutes of Leadership, it is that he puts his “communicate” absolute in Chapter 10. Why am I critical of that? Because I truly believe that communication should be in the top three, if not the number one, absolute of leadership. Communication is one area in which leaders are constantly challenged, is universally acknowledged as an area in which only the best leaders excel, and frankly is the place where we have the most work to do in our leadership development journey. In every one of my evaluations over many years of managing and working with people, I get feedback on communication and the need to communicate more. There is never enough communication and there are so many ways to communicate that it must always be part of our day-to-day work even though it might feel like we are over communicating at times. However, when it comes to communication more is not less – in fact more is never enough!
If we define leadership as setting and sharing a vision and motivating a team to obtain that vision then by definition a leader must communicate that vision to their team. A leader must communicate to ensure that people, policies and processes are aligned in order to realize the shared vision. Motivation is driven by communication. Clearly, communication is fundamental to leadership. Pundits often refer to the president of the United States as the “communicator-in-chief,” recognizing how critical communication is to effective presidential leadership. Leaders are constantly challenged to communicate, both verbally and nonverbally. Sharing information, in a framework that fits the culture of your organization (e-mail, blogs, all-hands meetings, newsletters, hallway chats, leadership team meetings, etc.) might be one of your biggest areas for improvement as a leader. Far too often we don’t want to communicate until we fully know the facts, the figures, and have the entire basis for our strategic decisions laid out before we share. But good leaders share what they do know and explain what they don’t, and the plan to achieve their vision. What are the three key aspects of effective leadership? Communication, communication and communication.
We all know what good communication looks like. We are assured, confident and focused in our work. As Burnison says, “One of the most important skills for any leader is the ability to communicate – not only to convey information but to inspire and guide.” (p. 156) Leaders that are effective communicators have team members that know the vision the whole organization is moving forward to obtain, can articulate their role in that vision and can share that vision with others. When there is bad communication (including no communication) an organization falls apart. People work in silos. They don’t see how their efforts contribute to an overall effort. They imagine worse-case scenarios. Ego may enter the picture, and ego-needs may motivate the work versus a shared commitment to strategy. We often hear people say “I’m in the dark” as a way of talking about lack of communication in their organizations. That is at best a lonely, isolating feeling and at worse a scary, anxiety producing feeling. Lack of communication is deadly to the morale and efficiency of an organization. Far too many employees are afraid to ask what’s going on, instead preferring that the leader tell them what to do next. Communication becomes a tool for maintaining power or prestige (who is in “the know”) versus part of effective leadership (sharing a vision, motivating a team).
If you are not the “communicator-in-chief” of your organization, can you work with your leadership to improve their communication skills? Doing so will pay off in great reward, I can assure you. Think about your own communication style – how can you be a more effective communicator? Burnison’s insights on leadership and communication are important. Take a look, and let me know what you think!