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Eight moments when leaders must communicate well

By Shane Hatton

When it comes to leading an organisation, every leader fundamentally understands the consequences of a poor leadership approach to finances. We understand the consequences of a poor leadership approach to governance or change management. But how many leaders are fully aware of the consequences of a poor leadership approach to communication?

The impact of ineffective or non-existent communication is felt throughout the organisation. It shows up in higher turnover, absenteeism, negativity and stress; and it perpetuates lower engagement, morale, innovation and productivity. A report from SIS International Research in partnership with Siemens Communications found that an organisation with as few as 100 employees could be leaking over half a million dollars every year as a result of communications barriers and latency.

In a 2013 article, Glassdoor for Employers listed the top five reasons why employees love their CEOs. It wasn’t surprising to read that employees want a leader who is visible both inside and outside the company. Seeing their leader leveraging their platform externally increased pride felt by employees. Hearing regularly from their leader internally, whether they are walking the corridors, writing notes or holding regular town hall meetings, created a culture of accessibility and boosted morale.

Whether in a television interview or online video, a town hall or your weekly meeting, the nature of leadership means you will find yourself addressing a group of people at a moment that demands you do more than just speak – it will be a moment that compels you to lead.

Put another way, every opportunity you have to stand up and speak is a moment either to build or to burn your leadership platform. James C. Humes, speechwriter for five American Presidents, said it this way:

‘The art of communication is the language of leadership. Every time you speak, you are auditioning for leadership.’

James C. Humes

Let’s look at eight unavoidable moments every leader will face. Whether you’re ready for them or not, as a leader you’ll need to know how to communicate effectively and lead your way through them.

  • Moments of pioneering: implementing change
    It has been said that change is the only constant. As a leader you can be certain that you will be required to guide your team through complex change and transition. Some of that change will take you into unfamiliar territory as you pioneer in new spaces. You will need to paint a picture of your desired future, while at the same time intentionally shift fixed mindsets and dysfunctional thinking that causes people to stay where they are.
  • Moments of sensemaking: creating clarity
    You will experience moments of uncertainty when the narrative is open to interpretation. It is in these moments that leaders distinguish themselves. If you cannot tell the story, your people – or worse, someone else – will do it for you. Great leaders view people and circumstances differently and need to help others do the same. You will be required to make sense of uncertainty and chaos and to control the narrative through clearly articulated and compelling messaging.
  • Moments of confronting or reinforcing: shaping culture
    Every time you speak is an opportunity to reinforce and shape your desired culture. By culture, this doesn’t just mean what you want people to do but who you want people to be. The stories you share, the behaviour you confront and the behaviour you reward paint a picture of your culture and reinforce the ‘way things get done here’.
  • Moments of bonding: building connection
    Every moment you have to speak is an opportunity to build and strengthen trust and connection with your team, and trust is a foundation for growth. Leadership author John Maxwell writes, “Teams that don’t bond, can’t build.”
  • Moments of mobilizing: casting a compelling vision
    Do you have a compelling vision or a common purpose to rally around and move towards? Do you know how to communicate it? In his book Amplifiers, Matt Church writes, “It’s been said that when Caesar spoke men wept, but when Cicero spoke men marched.” For a leader to inspire people is valuable but to mobilise people towards action is better.
  • Moments of influencing: strengthening commitment
    Do you have great ideas? Do you want people to buy into those ideas? Do you need something from people? The ability to influence people by articulating and communicating the value of your ideas is a critical leadership skill.
  • Moments of steering: navigating crisis
    There is a challenge and then there is a crisis. As a leader you will be required to navigate both. You must be the calm voice of authority while steering the organisation through turbulence. You must be the steady adviser and voice of reason in seemingly unreasonable circumstances.
  • Moments of translating: managing complexity
    Can you apply your high-level strategy in low-level situations? Can you turn your ideas into strategy and communicate that strategy to generate action? Can you articulate complex information in a jargon-free way that is useful for your team and organisation? In moments that matter, you need to be able to communicate a message that counts. It’s the difference between a person who speaks and a leader who leads.

While all of these moments are unavoidable, all are also important, because every moment you stand in front of your team or organisation is an opportunity to lead. It’s an opportunity to leverage your platform to accomplish collectively in a moment something that might have taken weeks or months to accomplish individually. The question isn’t if you will face them but rather how you will face them. With that in mind, what do you need to do now to get ready?

Shane Hatton is a leadership and communication expert and the author of Lead the Room – Communicate a Message That Counts in Moments That Matter.


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