Our friend Google defines leading as a physical act, as in leading an animal, or as a demonstration — showing someone the way. Business management started with the former — Theory X, where employees are like children who require strict discipline — and began taking the latter approach — being more human and treating employees like adults and “leading by example” in more recent years.
Management, on the other hand, has a different set of definitions: The process of dealing with or controlling things or people; the responsibility and control of an organization.
Note that control is implied in leadership, but explicit in management. The question of control in an interconnected age has become rather fraught of late. We’ve long observed that employees are smart, that control is illusory, that we must enlist people rather than merely command them.
In organizations where leaders respect employees and seek to recruit them to the business purpose, mission, values and vision, there’s sustainable success. In others where those precepts do not hold, success may come, but not be sustained.
In successful organizations, employees buy in. They understand their role in organizational results, they feel a connection to the organization and they act accordingly. Internal communication strategy should support the effort to create appropriate context, foster identification with the organization, and demonstrate the behaviors necessary for the organization to thrive.
In organizations where there is an uneven distribution of communication skill, where communication capabilities vary according to the individual leader, process is essential. Leaders must have access to a toolkit that helps them be effective. Ideally, the toolkit should recommend what to communicate, how to communicate, and provide some sort of mechanism to create discussion.
A few recommendations:
- Conduct a leadership communication audit. Discover to what extent leaders are doing communication well. Holding staff meetings, asking questions, engaging employees in planning and tactics are three areas that tend to work to improve communication in teams. This audit should be a combination of self-reporting, peer-reporting and employee feedback – a true 360 degree view.
- Establish processes for leadership communication that start with audience analysis rather than “messaging.” Leaders should ask, “who is my audience? What do they know now? What are their current behaviors? What do I need them to think, feel or do differently?”
- Help leaders think through the communication implications of their business strategies and objectives. This thinking is the cornerstone of an effective communication process. During this discussion, ask questions regarding the changes, objectives, reasons and effects. That’s what forms the content of the communication action.
More communicators could embrace the portion of their job that’s about communication itself — no one else can accurately call themselves experts in that discipline within your organization. If not us, whom?