The Complex Relationship Between Leadership and Communication
Leadership has been the driving force behind all development in the world, whether it is the entertainment industry or mankind’s ability to explore other planets. It is the sheer force that enables us to reach our goals to completion despite obstacles, disappointments and a multitude of challenges. All such major accomplishments have only been possible through collaboration between teams; none of the major breakthroughs in the world were achieved by one person alone. This forces us to observe that strong leadership is always coupled with effective communication between people.
LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNICATION ARE CLOSELY LINKED
Communication is capable of making everyone aware of the vision behind the leadership. People are willing to fight for a cause only, if they completely understand the vision behind it. One of the many attributes of a good leader is his/her ability to effectively communicate. A vision or a dream will never reach reality until it is properly communicated to the world. This is visible everywhere around us from successful non-profit organizations to multinational companies.
Strong leaders always exhibit the quality of being effective communicators. They possess the power to convince masses through their unique way of communication. This is visible in political leaders addressing the whole population of a country, senior executives addressing the workforce and coaches addressing sports teams. Strong leaders realize that people will follow them if they buy into the dream and support the primary goal. Leaders realize that transparency and honesty is vital in the pursuit of motivating people, so they make a conscious effort to channel information to everyone involved. The medium of communication could be anything ranging from face-to-face, videos, audios, emails, etc. It is also the responsibility of a leader to pick the right channel of communication, so the vision is understood logically and felt emotionally by everyone.
NUMEROUS LEADERSHIP INITIATIVES FAIL DUE TO A LACK OF COMMUNICATION
Good communication has benefits of increasing profits for companies, innovating new products, discovering new territories. All this is possible with the right team and motivated group of individuals following a leader. But, what happens when communication is the biggest hurdle in accomplishing a goal. When that great idea cannot be understood by anyone in the group or everyone feels confused coming out of a meeting. This is one of the predominant reasons why so many initiatives fail.
The leader of a corporation comes up with a goal. This goal is then shared with the senior executives, who then have the responsibility to share it with middle management and the rest of the workforce. Somewhere in this chain, the vision is lost and the goal is misinterpreted. The predominant reason is the lack of clear communication. This problem occurs due to a difference in perception of information. As an example, if I were to tell a team member how that new printer in the office works — my communication will be based on my ability to work with the printers. I will give very detailed instructions on how the printer works, if I am not that comfortable with its operation, internally believing that others won’t be either. On the other hand, merely giving any instructions because I perceive it to be natural for others to deal with printers, as it is for me.
One of the companies I used to work for decided to introduce new drafting software to replace the existing one. The director of engineering had analyzed the increased efficiency with the software upgrade, the financial gains were evident. Around 50 engineers and technologists were gathered for training, which lasted for a complete day. After 6 months of usage of the new tool, my team ran a report to analyze the savings in time. The results revealed that the upgrade did opposite to what was expected. I noticed that the goal behind this upgrade was never communicated to the workforce by the leadership. The employees took the training without knowing the true purpose of the change. This led the workforce to not utilize the tool for the features it was introduced for. The change envisioned by the leadership to increase efficiency and profits eventually resulted in the opposite. The primary reason for this failure was a lack of communication by the leadership to make the employees realize the end goal. As good communication has the power to move nations, at the same time ineffective communication can lead to unexpected failures. It is the utmost responsibility of leadership to be vigilant of this fact.
STEPS THAT CAN BE EMPLOYED TO CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT OF EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Making everyone feel comfortable is the first step toward creating an environment of effective communication. People should feel that they are not judged for their opinions. We learn to create the fear of communication because our education system has instilled wrong beliefs; it could be in the form of our classmates embarrassing us for something we expressed. This carries through to our adult life where we fear such repercussions. This comfort can be created by starting with ourselves; I can set an example for my team by freely communicating my ideas and thoughts. This in turn will make everyone around me feel that it is normal to express freely, that no one will be penalized for such behaviour. In a week I might have one of the team members join me in the “freedom of expression” movement. This will encourage others to act the same way, eventually making it normal for everyone to be openly expressive. It might take some time but I assure if you create it a habit, astounding results await you in the near future.
Honesty in communication is integral for building a long-term relationship with people following the vision of a leader. Honest communication creates an environment of trust, which not only motivates people, but also upsurges their faith in the vision of leadership. Honest communication is always open to criticism, as deep down the communicator realizes that they stand for a right cause, a cause that will benefit everyone, a cause that will make everyone’s life easier. Most people drift away from honesty because they want to conform to the society’s norm. For instance, rather than telling everyone in the office that the new printer was bought because it has additional functions, why not be honest and tell everyone that it will reduce the printing cost, which will increase the profits for the company and the potential for increased year-end bonuses. The motivation of workforce sinks as soon as they realize that the communication in inauthentic. It makes people feel that they are not working for a cause that will help people and add value to their lives.
Even though effective communication is about expression of thoughts and ideas, a good communicator must possess excellent listening skills. It is equally important to understand others’ ideas as it is to convey ours. A good listener has the advantage of completely understanding other person’s perspective and the place they are coming from, which accelerates the process of moving toward a common goal. Unsurprisingly, humans express openly toward others who listen carefully. It creates a sense of matched understanding. While working for a Utility company as a Project Manager, I once had a construction worker come to my office denying to re-do the work that had been completed by the construction crews. After asking him a few questions, I realized that he had been told by an engineer to complete the re-work, without giving him a chance to speak. As the conversation unfolded, I realized that he needs to be heard before a conclusion is reached. I sat calmly in my chair for the next 10 minutes and let him speak about the extra man hours it would take to complete the re-work. This made me understand the reason why he is unwilling to do the re-work, which was not out of laziness but the unavailability of construction crews. I was able to facilitate a second construction team to join him. This not only resolved the problem but made me realize that listening before speaking is essential to success.
This is by no means an exhaustive list to amplify the level of communication within any organization, but the above definitely qualify as ingredients to a successful leadership environment. I encourage the readers to take one learning from this article and utilize it in their business or personal life over the period of next week. You will be surprised with the results and more importantly how rapidly these results are visible in your life.
Suleman Haris is a motivational speaker and a professional engineer who resides in Edmonton, Canada. He has lived in 8 different cities over the last 10 years and has a deep passion for traveling. This passion has led him to many sporadic road trips across North America. His current focus is to leverage leadership and communication skills to make this planet a more fulfilling experience for everyone.