Magazine article Communication World

Simple + Straightforward = Success: Styles Vary, but the Basics of Executive Communication Stay True

Magazine article Communication World

Simple + Straightforward = Success: Styles Vary, but the Basics of Executive Communication Stay True

Article excerpt

Management guru Peter Drucker once said, "Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes." I don't agree. Leaders need to use a variety of communication tools--including speeches--to help everyone understand the organization's goals and how they can contribute. That's what produces results. And that's a critical role of leadership, especially today: to communicate widely, often and consistently, in good times and in bad.

Helping employees understand organizational goals has long been considered a key role of leadership communication, but building employee engagement is a newer priority. In its 2012 Global Workforce Study, the performance management consulting firm Towers Watson noted that one way to build engagement is to create "an environment that's energizing to work in ... being able to see and feel the pulse of activity--the intense discussions, lively video or phone conferences, the groups working a project plan on an online whiteboard in real time." The link between communication, energy and engagement is clear.

When I'm asked what an executive--or someone aspiring to a leadership position--can do to improve his or her communication effectiveness to help build engagement, my advice is to observe how the top leaders of high-performing organizations communicate. Watch, listen and read what they say. Whether you are an executive or an adviser to top leadership, here are five examples of excellent leader communication that makes a difference.

1. Keep your message simple, and repeat it often. According to the Fast Company article "Saving an Iconic Brand: Five Ways Alan Mulally Changed Ford's Culture," Ford's chief executive engineered the turnaround by using an easy-to-remember four-point plan: "Mulally kept hammering home these four points in every meeting, every town hall session, every analyst meeting and press conference." Evangelize--in your own style and voice. Bryce Hoffman, a Detroit News reporter who profiles Mulally in the book American Icon, calls him the cheerleader in chief.

Tony Hsieh, the widely admired leader of online retailer Zappos, may not project high "wattage," but he knows how to build a fun, exciting--and successful--culture. And he does it by literally letting employees write the book: the book on culture, that is. Instead of a top-down-driven guidebook, Zappos has a "culture book" made up of unedited submissions by employees.

2. Don't hide your problems. A lot of organizations say they're transparent. But being open--really open--is challenging whether your stock is publicly traded or whether your customers hit the social media channels to blast out their horror stories. Domino's Pizza produced a video that included actual focus groups of customers saying its pizza crust tasted like cardboard; the YouTube video comments are far from a love-fest. Yet the company's CEO, J. Patrick Doyle, showed it takes guts to be public about your problems. How is Domino's doing? Quarterly results for 2013 show a continuing rise in revenues and profits.

3. Project your passion. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer may have been criticized for eliminating the technology company's flexible work policy, but she receives an A grade for her passion and for presenting a clear, concise and consistent vision: that, according to Forbes, "Yahoo is about making the world's daily habits more inspiring and entertaining."

If your leaders seem to rely heavily on PowerPoint and it seems to sap their energy, ask them to deliver the same presentation without the slides--in a dry-run session with only you. …

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