Take a look at most of the studies that explore the traits of successful leaders, and you’ll see communication is usually close to the top. In a study by the Leadership Council in late 2015, it came out as the critical skill.
We’ve all been witness to the talented executive who struggles to make it to the next level, held back by their abilities to inspire and influence on a grand scale. And in contrast, we’ve seen the charismatic leader push on, despite sometimes a less-than-convincing grasp of their role. Many struggle with communication, however in my view, it's completely possible for every leader to make the communication grade, provided they have access to the right support.
Addressing anxiety around communication
It’s all in the approach, and unfortunately much of the communication support that is directed at leaders falls short. Let me illustrate this with a current example:
We’re working with an executive who leads a significant chunk of an organisation, so it goes without saying that he needs to engage his team. He happens to be responsible for strategy, so he also has to explain that to the entire organisation, as well as to the board of the holding company. These are all 'big ticket' communication requirements, but the problem is that our subject finds addressing any audience larger than a handful of people not just stressful, but debilitating. The nerves come, the breathing shortens and the words seem to disappear. Imagine the anxiety he feels in the lead up, never mind the meetings themselves. He’s been sent on mindfulness programmes and advanced presentation skills courses, he’s discussed it with his executive coach but the anxiety remains. The reason? All of these solutions have largely offered up generic ‘tools and techniques’ that have no real bearing on this person’s specific plight. They may be great in theory, but do they get to the root cause for an individual? They struggle to factor in variables such as national culture, corporate culture, personality traits and communication style.
This is where bespoke, focused communication coaching makes such a difference. When taking this approach, time is spent getting to know the person and the context in which they’re operating, as well as crucially spending time discussing what they’re actually meant to be talking about. As it turns out, in the example above, the problem was one of belief in the relevance of the message (‘I always seem to be on a different page from the audience’) and of ownership (‘the Board take the final decisions no matter what I say’). So working through these complex issues has helped to address the deep-rooted problem.
Tips to enhance your communications & message
While these issues are pretty much always unique to the individual, there are a number of things everyone can do to help reduce the stress of communicating and make their interventions that much more effective:
- Take your communications seriously – it is too important to rush, so preparation and planning are the key to getting it right. Those who can really wing it are a rare breed.
- Think carefully about your audience – what are their priorities, what are they thinking and what are their needs? How does what you have to offer help them? If necessary take advice and ask for feedback to ensure your message is truly relevant.
- Own it – sounding like a talking press release is a recipe for being ignored. Think about how you can out yourself into your communication to give that personal touch.
- Make sure your are truly consistent – your actions and behaviours have to be consistent with your message.
- Connecting with your message – above all else, you need to truly believe in what you are saying and the reasons why you are saying it. If you don’t know why you are communicating, then don’t!
As organisations become more complex, and we ask ever more of our leaders it is becoming more and more important to provide personal and tailored support on this most stressful and important of topics, and for those who struggle or who have big demands made of them, then bespoke communications coaching could be the answer you are looking for.