Leadership, like communication is a hotly debated subject. What makes a great leader? What makes great communication?
It is no co-incidence that great leaders in great organisations large and small have highly developed communication skills. The best leaders know how to communicate persuasively: they’re able to positively mobilise people from all walks of life to their cause. How do they do it?
They position the idea
First and foremost, great leaders know how to position an idea, relative to the world around them. They say leadership is visionary but sometimes too ambitious a plan galvanizes doubt, fear and ridicule – “He’ll never pull that off”, “Here we go again”.
To avoid this kind of negative reaction it’s important to position the idea relative to the experience and expectations of, and the opportunities available to the audience. Talking about taking the company to £100m in revenue to people who aren’t involved in client facing projects could be daunting, or just unfathomable. Instead, talk about what’s relevant and show how this idea fits into their current models of the world and how it will help to improve that model in a practical and achievable way.
There is nothing worse than a disconnected leader. In fact, the phrase ‘disconnected leader’ is an oxymoron of sorts because you cannot lead if you cannot connect with people.
The key to making deep connections with your team is communication, presence, and humility…all of this stems from one core skill that all great leaders share: the ability to listen.
When presenting a new idea to your team, it should never come as a surprise. It should be as a result of a conversation with John in the kitchen, Lucy in the lift, James in a meeting. It should be an amalgamation of 100 conversations and ideas and discussions with people across your business. That way, when you present the idea, you can reference its foundations, and individuals will be able to connect with core elements of the idea, or at the very least the drivers, which led to the formation of the idea.
When looking to leaders, people judge based on what they see and feel, not based on what they hear. Leadership is about delivery on promises, it’s not about talking. It’s ‘do as I do if you feel compelled to’, not ‘do as I say because I said so’.
Establishing credibility is hard. It doesn’t come overnight. It’s based on trust, which is built over months and even years. In this respect, credibility can’t be established with facts, quotes and awards: it has to come from within. When presenting a new idea, your credibility is intrinsically linked to you, and what people’s experience of you has been. For this reason, it’s important to always act as you wish to be seen. When it comes time to ‘appear credible’, that bit will have already been taken care of.
That said, it is important to underpin your ‘visions’ and ‘ideas’ with plans and requirements. Showing you’ve thought through your idea carefully in terms of how it would be implemented helps people to see how it could come to fruition, and more importantly, how they can help!
Empower others to act
Following on from the last point, it’s important to show clearly how people can help and support the project. Even providing feedback, or showing support in a non-direct way is a means of acting positively in a project and the top leaders proactively find ways to empower action.
One key form of empowerment, is the ability to build on and share further ideas without the fear of retribution. If you share your ideas but don’t take on any form of feedback, people will quickly lose interest…what’s the point of them listening to you if you won’t listen to them?
A great way to empower people to act, then, is to share your idea early. Let people ask questions and provide their input in the early stages. This is a great way to build consensus and win support ready for the big unveil.
Adapt to communication preferences
Finally, great leaders recognise that not everyone shares their preferred style of communication. We all know the power of introversion and reflected thinking. It’s important then to provide multiple ways of taking on your ideas.
Some people might want a big bang presentation. Some people might one a detailed, evidence based report they can read and digest. Try to think about the people you’re sharing your idea with and adapt your style to them rather than expecting them to adapt to you: it’s their support you want after all.