The Three Communication Principles Of Effective Leadership

If you think you’re leading and look behind and no one is following, you’re just out for a walk.

A while ago, when I was speaking at One Beacon Insurance, I heard a great story from Vice President Gary Block.  He said his third-grade son Taylor was upset because he had not been chosen as the line leader for his class.  Dad tried to console him by reminding him that he had been chosen dozens of times before … to be the line leader at lunch, for the bus, etc.

But Taylor protested, “You don’t understand.  This was for a field trip.  I had the chance to lead my classmates to a place where they’ve never been before.”

My reaction was “Wow!  That’s just about the best definition of leadership I’ve ever heard.”  First of all, Taylor knew that leadership was all about “action; it wasn’t about title.  And second, leadership is a “chance” that everyone gets. I talked about both of those points in last week’s “Tuesday Tip.”

I’d like to dig a little deeper into the “actions” or “behaviors” of effective leadership — because you have the potential to become a leader (if you’re not one already), and you have the potential to become a much more effective leader (if you’re already serving in some sort of leadership capacity). That’s why I spend the entire second day of THE JOURNEY TO THE EXTRAORDINARY on the topic. 

No matter what role you play or job you have — at home or at work — you can be tremendously more effective WHEN you master the 12 KEY leadership skills.  And one of those skills, just one of them, is communication.  I’ll focus on that in today’s “Tuesday Tip.”

=>  1.  Leaders are good communicators.

That’s right.  LEADERS ARE GOOD COMMUNICATORS.  In fact, even if you didn’t know who was who in a group, you could probably spot the leaders by just watching and listening to the group for a few minutes.

Typically, the leader is articulate.  He expresses himself persuasively, authoritatively.  She may speak last on a subject, or she may be the one that the rest of the group really listens to.

Consultant John Zenger says, “Most leaders instinctively enjoy community.  They are comfortable in large settings and in one-on-one discussions.  They use brief interactions to gather and give information.  Wherever they go, they exploit every opportunity to convey what they deem to be the important messages about mutual goals.”

If you don’t fall into that category of being articulate and persuasive, don’t worry.  Many great leaders were basically shy and introverted in their early, formative years.  They did not automatically or “naturally” gravitate towards the limelight.  Lincoln, Gandhi, and Washington fall into that category as do more contemporary business leaders such as Bill Marriott, Jr. of the huge Marriott Corporation, or Oral Roberts, founder of Oral Roberts University.

In many cases, great leaders are propelled into the limelight because of their deep convictions about a particular mission or cause.  They simply had to speak out on the issues that were very important to them and their organizations. Mind you, some of those leaders never felt comfortable in the limelight. They were never totally at ease in the leadership role, but they learned to do it nonetheless.

But they LEARNED to be good communicators.  Whether through trial and error … specific training … or a series of difficult events where they had to either sink or swim … effective leaders LEARN how to communicate with others. And so can you.  You can learn how to take others to a place they’ve never been before.

=>  2.  Leaders communicate their vision of a “better way.”

Of course, you may be thinking that you know several good communicators in your organization, but they’re not necessarily effective leaders.  That may be true. Some of your coworkers may be quite articulate as they complain about the management or direction of your company, but none of us would put them into the category of being an inspiring, effective, motivating, or team-building kind of leader.

So let me be more specific when I say leaders are good communicators.  Good leaders focus their communication on their vision of the future.  They help define that vision and they enlist the help of others to attain that vision.

In doing so, leaders often focus on emotional issues that connect them with others.  Business leaders talk about the high quality of their products, or their dedication to customer service, or their commitment to the dignity of all employees.  Zenger says, “They focus on values that appeal to employees, enlisting them in a noble course that gives meaning and purpose to their work.”

Of course you may be thinking of “leaders” who might be considered effective — but certainly not good … people like Hitler, Stalin, Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein.  You might argue that all of them were good communicators, and they all talked about their vision of the future.  So how do they fit into my definition of “good leaders?”

They don’t.  Each of them failed the ultimate, leadership communication test.  Each of them was a liar.  As Dr. Spencer Johnson, author of “Who Moved My Cheese?” says, “Integrity is telling myself the truth.  And honesty is telling the truth to other people.”  None of those “notorious” leaders ever did that.

=>  3.  Effective leaders also communicate by example.

LeRoy Thompson, Jr., the author of “Mastering the Challenges of Change,” says, leaders “must consistently exhibit the behaviors they want others to emulate.”  He illustrates this principle with Arnie Kleiner, who took over as general manager of WMAR-TV in Baltimore when it was referred to as “the number four station in a three-station market.”  Kleiner wanted everyone to discuss the stations’ problems frankly and to plan improvements.

People were hesitant to level with him — until the lost wallet incident.  After returning to his office from shooting a routine editorial, Kleiner discovered that his wallet was missing.  He assumed someone had stolen it.

He issued an angry memo to all station staff announcing the theft, but declaring amnesty if the perpetrator would just return the credit cards, driver’s license, and other identification.  Most of the staff was incensed that the general manager was accusing them of stealing, but no one said anything.  The air was thick with hurt feelings and hostility toward him — a familiar climate at WMAR.

Three days later, Kleiner donned his studio jacket to do another editorial — and discovered the wallet in an inner pocket.  He could have simply announced the wallet was found, omitting details.  But he seized the opportunity for leadership.

He sent another memo letting everyone know that he had blown it and that for the rest of the day everyone could “feel free to call me a you-know-what to my face instead of behind my back like you usually do.”

For the entire day, everyone from the janitor to the weatherman made it a point to take him up on his offer.  “From that moment forward,” Thompson reports, “there was a noticeable change in the morale of WMAR-TV; making a mistake was no longer the end of the world.”

Kleiner led by example.  In the future, when he was wrong he admitted it.  And when he was wrong, he did not repeat the dysfunctional behavior of blaming everybody else.  He started to model the openness and flexibility that he wanted his staff to exhibit.

You have the potential to be a leader — or at the very least, you have the potential to exhibit some constructive leadership behaviors.  And it all starts with your communication skills.

Action:  What are your five greatest strengths when it comes to communication?  Perhaps you’re a good listener or you can make your point clearly and persuasively.  You need to be aware of those strengths.  Write down several ways you can more actively use those strengths in your work.

Then list five weaknesses you have in communication.  Perhaps you say one thing and do another.  Or maybe you’re too quiet at staff meetings.  Then write out a plan as to what you will do to eliminate those weaknesses.