Nobody ever said that effective communication was easy. We don’t always get the words just right, or the timing. We’re not always listening to each other when we should. (And as we get older, the reality is that we can’t always hear each other too well!) We communicate for so many reasons: to exchange information, to explain things, to convey feelings, and to get to know each other better. Some of us are better at some aspects of communication than others, but I doubt there are many who question its importance in engendering healthy relationships and effective human interaction. It’s not always easy to get it just right, but it’s important to keep trying.
Enter the role of communication in leadership. Regardless of whether the list of critical traits for effective leaders consists of 5 traits, 6 (as in our case), 10, or 15, Communication always features as an essential characteristic.
What does communication really mean in a leadership context? For one thing, you give away a lot about who you are through your style of communicating and also through the topics you choose to address openly – and those topics you choose not to address so openly. A good leader understands this, and keeps frequent and open communication high on the to-do list, communicating regularly with his or her team and with constituents/employees/etc. A good leader understands the importance of communicating the issues, the options, the decisions, and the reasons for those decisions. Throughout the process of moving from issue to options to decision, a good leader understands the importance of keeping all channels of communication open. Doing so demonstrates transparency and inspires trust and confidence.
Having said that, there is communication as we have traditionally thought of communicating, and then there is the world of “Communications”. It behooves a busy leader to ensure that communication from the top really reflects his or her personality and intent. Carefully crafted messages have their place, but they are not a replacement for authentic personal communication.
I do – I really do – understand the need for solid organizational communications (corporate, political, etc.). But people recognize the difference, and they become justifiably cynical when the only form of communication they get from their leaders are of the crafted, polished variety. Professionals in Communications departments write stories and releases intended to promote good news and a positive image about their organization. They also work on getting out ahead of problematic issues, or massaging the aftermath of a bad situation. This role is critical to a modern day organization; having a competent Communications department is extremely important.
However, a Communications department does not and cannot fulfill all aspects of organizational communication, not at all. Nor should they be expected to. Their work is not a substitute for that ever-so-important two-way communication that engenders understanding and trust. This requires a leader’s voice. A Communications department’s role in an organization complements the leader’s need to communicate frequently, effectively, and openly; it does not replace that need.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that more and more often the requirement for an organization to communicate with its constituents is relegated to the organization’s Communications department. A good leader will recognize the difference and ensure that both forms of communication are given the attention they deserve. Personally.
Credits: Anniversary card from Jane Fritz to her husband, cartoon from teamworkandleadership.com
Related posts on leadership:
- Effective leadership
- Commitment and confidence
- Communication (this post)