- Dale Ludwig Leadership
When we are asked to develop a Leadership Communication training program for a client, it’s almost always because the leadership development training they’ve already invested in neglected to include a communication component. This article will address this major flaw in the leadership programs out there.
Let’s think about what it looks like to lack real leadership communication skills. You’ve offered the best leadership training you could find, but there’s something missing in the day-to-day operation of your business. You sit in far too many hour-long meetings with long, rambling discussions to arrive at a single conclusion. For example, “the data shows we should double down on marketing efforts in South Asia,” and you had to fight through the noise to arrive at that conclusion yourself. Nobody actually said it that clearly and simply in the meeting. How is that waste of time and effort reduplicated throughout your organization? And at what cost?
You may also find that people whose futures you had invested in leave for other jobs. Solid projects with lots of profit potential somehow lose momentum or go off track. Perhaps some teams function brilliantly while others can’t seem to get rolling. In either case, you haven’t been able to identify the reasons why. What you likely have neglected—and you’re definitely not alone in this—is leadership communication training. Even people who are exceptional in their fields, from marketing to engineering to arts administration, need help developing the skills to make them good communicators. You can’t rely on enough natural-born leaders (whatever that actually means) landing in the right roles at your company. Most of the time, leaders are made, not born. Communication training is a big part of shaping people into the kind of leaders teams are happy to follow, learn from, and grow with.
The Risk of Promoting Your Best Doers without the Right Training
Here’s a case study that shows how expensive and frustrating a lack of leadership communication skills can be. A major consumer products company was in the habit of promoting their best engineers to leaders. The goal was to start them as managers and move them through to Director, then VP. These new leaders got trained in all the systems and protocols for the administrative side of their jobs, and then they were told to go forth and lead. The problem was that a lot of them fit the engineer stereotype of being highly introverted, technically minded, and either too blunt or so cautious that they found it hard to address problems directly. Some of them had sufficient people skills to make the job work, but enough of them didn’t that the company ultimately had to create (and fund) a new career track for senior engineers that didn’t involve leading people. This added substantial complexity to the org chart, and it meant that a lot of people with the talent and experience to help others get better at their jobs didn’t get to do so because they weren’t given the tools. Leadership training focused on communication would have gone a long way to helping skilled engineers become valued leaders. Let’s look at some of the things such training would instill.
- A way of being intentional about representing your brand. You put many thousands, if not millions, of dollars into shaping and communicating your brand. Everything from your logo to your values to how you tell the story of the company’s founding is a part of that brand. Leadership communication—both what is said and how it is said—should also represent your brand both internally and externally. All that care and investment in shaping your brand can be seriously damaged with one ill-conceived conference presentation, press release, or internal memo. This goes beyond image or industry and gets at the heart of the values and message you represent. Leadership should reflect the company, and communication is the main vehicle by which that happens.
- A process for analyzing an audience and meeting them where they are is understanding the people you lead. What are they afraid of? What does success look like for them in the short and long term? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Their assumptions and defaults? Understanding the answers to these questions is a skill that can be built. Leadership training focused on communication is how that happens. How confident do you feel about your leaders’ ability to pivot and communicate effectively to the audience in front of them? This comes into play particularly if your company has roles with dual audiences, like the general public or workers on the factory floor plus the c-suite, the board, or investors.
- Tools for crafting and simplifying the message. In complex situations leaders must manage, and in the difficult decisions they must make, there are a lot of moving parts and subtle shadings of meaning and impact. When communicating the implications of those situations and decisions to a wider audience, leaders need to know which details are important, which would be unnecessarily alarming, and which are not directly applicable to the issues employees care about. A key aspect of leadership is understanding the audience first and foremost. It also involves understanding both the quality and quantity of the message, and both the style and the substance in order to give those who rely on that messaging what they need to succeed. Solid communication affects productivity and profitability from daily to-do lists to years-long projections. Make sure your leaders instruct, inform, and guide with clear, apt messaging.
- Insight into the foundations for their own growth. Self-awareness is a big component of effective communication in general. Yet, at the leadership level, self-awareness is vital in navigating challenges, from managing a crisis to forming a succession plan. Good leaders know what they bring to the table and where they’re lacking. They shore up the weaknesses, sure, but they also work on formulating new ways to apply and exercise their strengths. Once managers have gotten used to their jobs, the good ones imagine how they would behave as directors, then as VPs, then maybe even eventually in your role. The ability to understand what reaching the next level requires of them in terms of leadership behavior, especially the subtleties of communicating in that role, is also something that can be taught.
These are just some of the crucial considerations for leadership communication. The next step for you is to take a long look at those in leadership positions at all levels in your organization. Who is ready for promotion? Who could you send to deliver a TEDx talk next week if you had to? Who would you want around if a system failed or if a natural disaster occurred? If the list of people coming to mind is short or makes you nervous, leadership development training in communication could be the key to helping you sleep better at night. Feel relieved knowing that your leaders are not only proficient in their fields but are also the mentors, problem-solvers, teachers, and guides that your company needs.
We would love to talk about this more with you. We can help you decide whether you need executive coaching for a few leaders or full courses for many, and how we can customize our work to your company and culture.