Messages with Meaning and Impact

For the next few weeks, we are diving a bit deeper into the fact that as a leader, you are always on the podium. You are being critically observed every moment of the day at work, and outside work – and every move, every word and every facial expression will be considered for meaning and interpretation. Really freaky stuff, right??

Here are a few stories:

A leader walks onto the factory floor and sees a newly produced batch of widgets, all shiny and blue. He says: “Impressive!! They would look great in red too.” The next day – the blue ones are gone, and thousands of red ones are ready to leave for the store. The leader was spit-balling, and failed to tell the team so, they interpreted the sentence as corrective action and direction – a very expensive thinking out loud exercise. This is a real story that plays out similarly in many organizations every day, and we will share a few more next week.

The focus of messages with meaning and impact is a bit wider than mere conversation and direction. In an environment where all employers are competing for talent – we must understand the drivers of employee decision-making: a competitive remunerations package will open the door, but an employee-focused culture may lead to a yes. Clear direction and purpose will retain them. Leaders must communicate vision and direction, alignment, and priorities as well as expectations around execution relentlessly. Losing talent because of weak and confusing messaging is not only expensive but also damaging to your reputation.

I recently received a note via Glassdoor on a review of an old friend – sadly it berated her leadership quite harshly – weak, directionless, very negative, and no leadership. I know that leading that organization is her deepest passion, her messaging however needs a lot of work. She talks too much and the message gets lost in her verbose discourse, and she often displays a negative bias. Her passion and good intentions are lost in the framing and delivery of the message.

What does a good message look like?

Whether you are sharing the vision, alignment or inspiring outcomes – the following five guidelines should always be top of mind:

  1. Once is not enough.  Communicate relentlessly and continuously. Consider your job as being the Chief Reminding Officer. Be clear on the purpose of the communication, and keep the process open and transparent, and engage in real conversations on the topic.
  2. Simple and direct. Make it easy for others to understand the message. Most public speakers are keenly aware that their trade is dependent on how the message is received.
  3. Listen and encourage feedback.  It is the only way to test the success of your communication. Encouraging input is a valuable way to learn what is really happening. Asking questions such as “What needs to be done?”, “What is right for the business now?” “If you were me, what would you change?”
  4. Illustrate with stories. Everyone likes a good story, it is a great way to give life to a vision, or a goal. People relate to stories and find them easier to repeat.
  5. Communication is a lot more than words. It is crucial to follow through with congruent demeanour and actions. When you communicate, non-verbal cues must be aligned with the message and follow-through actions should support the message. You are always under observation, and your teams and stakeholders derive meaning from every action.

You would think that a company that is known for clear direction, transparent and open communication would be commonplace, but for those who actually achieve this – it will be a large competitive advantage in the war for talent.

“Communication is the real work of leadership.” Nitrin Noria