I love reading Mark Miller’s blogs about leadership. Recently he wrote two great articles about leadership and the ability to communicate. He posits: “If you can’t communicate you can’t lead”. You can read his Part One here:http://greatleadersserve.com/leadership/if-you-cant-communicate-you-cant-lead-part-1/
In this article, he tells us that “communication is perhaps the most difficult aspect of leadership,” that clear communication is both critical and daunting, and that the difficulty in communicating increases as the size of the audience increases. He goes on to list some of the factors that contribute to the hurdles that leaders need to overcome. Three of my greatest hurdles I recognize and am working on are:
Bias – People hear what they want to hear, and leaders forget that we bring our own biases into our message. We assume that our audience will hear past our own biases to the real message. We forget that what we are communicating has been coloured by our past, beliefs, personality and our perspective on the future.
Time – We are all busy people. Leaders are especially so. We are always thinking ahead of the curve. Miller says: “the demands on our time and the time of our audience create tremendous pressure and additional noise that must be acknowledged and mitigated.” Both we and our audience are bombarded with information from many sources, making clear communication the “Mount Everest” of leadership and very challenging.
Noise – We live in an information dense environment, with all kinds of information devices, and we can forget that our message is just one small drop in the ocean of information. The competition for the attention of our hearers is fierce and often contradictory. All leaders are challenged to overcome ‘noise in the communication channel’. To overcome those problems, Miller proposes some important steps, four of which I can readily apply to my life:
Prepare before you speak: His instruction here flows out of the fact that great and effective communication happens with preparation. Even the greatest speakers who could “wing it” much of the time know that they need preparation to preserve and improve their skills.
Here, I will put in a plug for Toastmasters. My husband and I have been members of a Toastmasters club for more than a year. It is a fantastic program which encourages incremental growth in developing speaking and leadership skills. It teaches you how to package the message in a speech for maximum effect – using good grammar, sentence structure, humour and delivery, and more – all in less than ten minutes. If you have never considered Toastmasters as a vehicle for effective communication, you should.
Simplify the message: Messages that are not easily understood by the audience suggest that the leader was unsure or unprepared. (Been there! Done that!) Great messages have been re-written, distilled, purified, and simplified numerous times before they are expressed. Members of Toastmasters clubs develop the skill of presenting the most important facts with simplicity, clarity and precision. That way the message targets the hearts and minds of its hearers. Simplify, simplify, simplify!
Repeat the message: One lesson I learnt as a schoolteacher was that: “Repetition is the mother of memory.” Our vision is to train the next generation of Christian leaders to be courageous, disciplined and visionary. This needs to be repeated over, and over again. We believe that our message is important enough to be repeated frequently so that, among the cacophony of noise in our communication channel, our message would resonate and not be lost.
Walk the talk: In my recent Toastmasters speech I referred to the statistic that communication is 10% words, 20% tone and 70% body language. Sometimes, we say the right thing but there is a disconnect between WHAT we say and HOW we act. We can say the right things but act in a manner contrary to our words. This kind of communication affects our credibility. “Actions speak louder than words.” We have to learn to let our words and actions converge.
A leader is looked up to as an example, so he becomes both a target and a specimen. He becomes a target because it is easier to shoot at anything that is elevated; a specimen because he is under a microscope as every action is examined against his words. We will not escape the watchful scrutiny of our followers.
A leader who desires to influence others must strive to become a more effective communicator, must recognize the key hurdles of his own bias, the limits of time both for himself and his audience and the noise in the communication channel. He can overcome problems by being prepared, by simplifying his message, by repeating it often, and by developing integrity between his actions and his words.
I am but a babe in learning these things. My prayer is that I would receive much ‘undeserved favour’ or grace from my followers as I face each hurdle – and possibly trip over a few – as I work towards becoming proficient at leadership-level communication.
You can read Part Two here: http://greatleadersserve.com/communication/if-you-cant-communicate-you-cant-lead-part-2/
Share your communication experiences with us, as a follower and as a leader at: firstname.lastname@example.org