In a previous blog I highlighted the importance of strategic leaders having a positive presence in order to deliver their purpose and strategic goals. In addition, to monitoring and managing their behavior, a key skill for a leaders to project positive presence is the way they communicate. As with their behavior, communicating with credibility is a driver of success. For a modern leader, communication and projecting presence can be complicated due to the many methods of communication (e.mail, video-conferencing, face to face meetings, blogs and other forms of electronic postings). There is an additional challenge for most leaders as they work with diverse and global teams where there are many opportunities to be misunderstood.
Communication is a two way street
There are several points to be considered in respect to communication style and the perception of leadership presence. First, communication is a two-way street, there is the person communicating and the person receiving the communication. The perception others have of your leadership presence is formed by your style as both a transmitter of the communication message and as the receiver of a message. The aim of effective communication is to be clear, concise and understood by the receiver of the communication. It is also important that as you communicate you seek to understand whether your message has been understood as you intended. Whether it is verbal communication or written, through e.mail or texting, it is a good idea to check that your message has been understood by asking questions of the recipient or summarizing for clarity. One of the most important skills for a strategic leader is the ability to receive a message which involves being a great listener.
Your communication style can have an impact on four important outcomes of leadership presence: authenticity; building trust; being present in the moment for others and influencing others. It may be that the aim of the communication is to give instructions to a team member, to solicit opinions on an idea, to generate new ideas, to gain buy-in to a plan, to get a decision from senior management, to pass on information, etc. Each of these outcomes requires a different approach and style of communication.
Know your audience
Know your audience- who will receive your message. Some things to consider in this regard is the level of knowledge each member of your audience has around a subject and their style of receiving messages. In this case, some members of the audience may have some knowledge of the subject but only at a strategic level. Some of the audience may have a decision-making style that require them to understand your proposal in great detail, whilst others just need the top-line messages to make a decision. It may require you to meet with the senior leaders one on one or give a detailed written document to provide them with the details they need to so that they can feel comfortable making a decision. Other questions to consider when thinking about your audience include: what is your relationship with those you are communicating with? Do you have a long-standing relationship or are they new to you? What is your level of credibility with the audience? Do they view you as trustworthy or an expert in your technical field? Do you have a history of successful or unsuccessful communication with them? Do they prefer verbal or written communication? In any case, understanding your audience for any communication is a first step to obtaining your objective from the communication.
How you present your story
I use the word story on purpose. Great communicators are able to capture the attention of their readers or audience by telling a compelling story whose narrative resonates with the receivers of the message in a way that gets them to read on or keep listening. This is a skill that differentiates people who are able to gain trust, be authentic and influence others. A well-crafted presentation or written communication helps the audience come to an appreciation of the storyline and builds excitement about wanting to see the next chapter.
Using humor in written communications or presentations can ease the tension of a dry presentation or written article. Although, there is an advantage to using humor there are also some dangers. Obviously, inappropriate humor does not have a place in business communications but also there is a danger that humor may be misunderstood. This is particularly true with sarcasm that may not be appreciated in the same way across different cultures. It can also be misinterpreted based on the media you are using. Face to face or video conferencing is safest as you can see the reaction of the receivers of the humor. It is more difficult over the phone and through e.mail. Although, some well-placed wit can add to your leadership presence, be careful using humor as it can easily backfire. In this case it is always best to be safe rather than sorry.
Too much or too little
The final point I would like to make relates primarily to meetings but can also apply to written communications. In my coaching practice, I come across the question quite often – how much is the right amount to be contributing. This is particularly true in science as scientist tend to be introverted in nature and often feel they are not vocal enough. I would argue that it is the quality of your contribution that matters rather than the quantity of input. Well-thought out appropriate comments that add to the discussion and add to your leadership presence rather than speaking for the sake of being visible. We have all worked with people that “like the sound of their own voice” or have something to say about everything even if it is not relevant or insightful. It is my experience that people who speak for the sake of speaking are not always viewed favorably. On the other hand, if you have a contribution but sit on your hands and say nothing, this can also be viewed negatively. My advice is to make appropriate comments when they add to the discussion or move the discussion forward– there is a lot to be said by saying the right things at right time. Your presence will be appreciated by what you say not by how much airtime you are taking up. If you are in a leadership position in a meeting this does not mean dominating conversation. Great leaders know when to talk and when to give room for others to express themselves. Always default to the idea of being inclusive and creating an environment to let everyone feel comfortable to contribute.
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