5 Essential Characteristics of Leadership Communication for 2022
— December 20th, 2021
Coaching leaders to be effective communicators can be one of the most rewarding as well as the most daunting roles that a Communication professional can do.
Every leader is unique and will have different strengths and weaknesses. Add to mix everything we’ve learned about communication throughout the pandemic.
So, what does effective leadership communication look like as we head into 2022? Here are five essential characteristics for Communicators to help leaders to embrace.
1. Have a voice on societal issues
Employees are increasingly looking for organizations that are aligned with their values and broader societal issues. Younger generations, in particular, expect them to have a stance on things like climate change, ESG, Diversity and Inclusion, and pandemic response.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 86% of respondents expect leaders to speak out on these issues.
Poppulo Guide: Coach Your Leaders to Ace Their Communications
This means leaders need to think deeply about what their organization stands for and ensure they are championing these causes, both internally and externally in a way that’s authentic to them.
Communicators play an important role in ensuring a leader’s actions match their words. Not doing so could have incredibly negative consequences for your organization, its customers, and the wider community.
2. Be clear
Organizations are complex. Multiple competing priorities overlaid with constant change, increasingly regulated environments, and technology-driven pressure can leave employees feeling fragmented and unable to focus on what matters.
We all saw the confusion resulting from poor message clarity through the pandemic, particularly from our political leaders, and how this eroded trust. Clarity is a quality that makes leaders effective, not just in a crisis but also in our everyday work lives.
Strategies need to be made simple, relevant, and practical so that people understand not just what the strategy is, but what actions they need to take as a result.
Using stories is a great way to do this, and where Communicators can help. Leaders who can cut through the clutter and deliver clear, simple messages are invaluable.
3. Be upfront
Employees expect transparency — they generally know when things aren’t going well. They expect leaders to be communicating not just the good news, but also the challenges.
Too often organizations are overly cautious about being portrayed negatively or how things might play out in the media.
Of course, respect confidentiality and commercial interests, but leaders who communicate well talk openly about mistakes, learnings, disappointments, and frustrations. Contrary to fears, doing this actually builds trust and can enhance reputation.
It has been really refreshing to hear leaders being more open about their personal lives and struggles over the last couple of years. In turn, this has given team members permission to be more vulnerable, and to prioritize their physical and mental wellbeing in a way that was not done pre-pandemic.
This level of openness and vulnerability is also essential in building trust and elevating team performance.
4. Create Belonging
There is now a real onus on leaders not just to be visible but to create a sense of belonging, regardless of where their employees are located. Achieving this is considerably more complex than it used to be.
In some ways, having a digital window into people’s homes and lives has provided opportunities for a more genuine, personal connection.
But for some people, online meeting fatigue has become overwhelming. Others may be feeling isolated and crave being back with their teams in person. There are also those who may be feeling unsafe back in their office.
Creating a genuine sense of belonging means connecting with all these people in an empathetic and meaningful way; providing a connection to the organization’s purpose and team goals, helping them adjust to change, and providing opportunities for genuine dialogue.
It can also mean allowing people to switch off when they need to. Ensuring there are opportunities to relax and have fun together should also be seen as a business imperative!
5. Listen more
Employees are usually working much closer to the action than their leaders and expect to have their opinions heard.
Leaving ten minutes at the end of a large forum for people to ask questions is probably not going to cut it. Leaders need to hone their listening skills and also learn to ask better questions than simply, “Let me know if you have any questions!”
One of the most valuable things communicators can do for leaders is to help them understand how their messages will land, and help them prepare so they’re not caught off guard.
Stay across what employees are thinking using a variety of tools (including some anonymous ones), and review sentiment on social tools and through recruitment processes such as onboarding and exit interviews.
There’s no doubt leaders are under increased pressure; dealing with complex issues and no easy answers. Effective communication needn’t be seen as an added burden but rather a lever to help them achieve their goals.
If employees trust their leaders, feel connected to the strategy, and are focused on the right priorities, they are more than halfway there.