Patterns & Insights


Leadership Communications – Words and Context Matter

by | Apr 2, 2020 | communications, growth, leadership

Words are powerful.

I love words and stories. I even make it a large part of my work to continuously learn how to wield them for influence and for effectively communicating ideas and solutions. We use words to inspire and educate and inform and convince others. Words are powerful.  Our leadership communications styles are a significant element of how we reach and influence others.  And because of this, being intentional about developing and improving our effectiveness as leaders requires among other things, that we consider our communications.

Data-driven everything is top of mind in today’s business world. Data can unlock the key to delivering words that connect at a personal level to our audience. As a result of using data to gain insights, you can meet your audience where they are.  This audience driven approach is a foundational tenet of effective marketing. Good marketers know that taking the time to understand their audiences’ perspective along with their challenges and aspirations is key to connecting with them.  However, these same principals should also be a key tenet of how we practice and demonstrate leadership through our communications every day.  As leaders, we must also personalize our communications for the individuals we seek to influence and do so within the context of the current situation.

Context is both broad and personal.

We increase our potential to reach and influence others when we do so within the context of what is required for each situation. Context matters.  In fact, being cognizant of not just the big picture, but also seeking awareness and understanding of the unique personal situation of the individuals we seek to influence, inspire, and lead. The words we use and the stories we tell can be a powerful vehicle for demonstrating leadership.  We can use them to inspire and educate and influence and support others. But there is a dark side of our words. Alternatively, words and stories can also be used to manipulate and diminish and belittle others.  Sometimes, even the very same words can be used by different individuals with vastly different intent.

We have all had a situation we can recall when we were given a heart felt and genuine compliment, as an example.  However, it is also highly likely that we can remember other situations in which we received the exact same compliment, but we knew intuitively that it carried a hidden agenda delivered solely to win our favor for the other person’s self gain.

Practical and effective communication skills are critical for leaders and can take many forms. There is not a one-style “best” for leadership communications. It is the leader who is adaptable to both the situation and the individuals or teams needs at any given time that is most likely to positively influence others.  Therefore, we need to develop many styles of communications to be effective.

Finding your unique leadership communications style.

There are leaders who effectively communicate from the megaphone – charismatically inspiring millions of followers. Other leaders naturally apply a more reserved and quiet style – erring on the side of genuine listening with fewer words.  And, while the style that we assume as leaders for our communications is important, we can not forget that it is a two way street.  How well you listen and how you engage and connect with others through your actions (beyond your words) is where real trust is built. A favorite phrase from an article written years ago in HBR, but one that still holds true, noted that good listening skills were key to establishing a truly “cooperative conversation,” and foundational to effective communications.

cultivating leadership communications styles

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Remember a positive encounter with a leader from your past – one that served you well.  Think about the characteristics of the engagement.  What about the engagement was positive?  What made you feel empowered or valued?

The situations that you remember take many forms.

I for one, remember a very wise and quiet leader I once worked for who delivered some very tough feedback to me when I needed to hear it. His style was not one I’d characterize at all as charismatic and eloquent. He was a man of few words. However, he communicated the tough news to me in a way that, although it was hard to hear, was welcomed and empowering. I am grateful for his leadership.

Communication skills require nurturing.

Leadership requires being able to share a vision, get others behind their “why,” coaching and giving feedback, creating trusts to achieve shared objectives, and attracting and motivating talent among other things.  In all of these endeavors, communications style and how a leader uses communications of all forms are foundational.  And as we’ve discussed in prior articles, being a “leader” does not require a special title or role.  Effective communicators can radiate their influence beyond “positional” power to positively influencing others in a way that makes a difference and achieves positive outcomes.

Continuously working toward being a better and more effective communicator is a crucial exercise to grow oneself as a leader – or for that matter, to grow as a person, or friend, or spouse, or parent. But words are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Your actions can speak volumes more than your words. Building your communications plan as a leader, whether your team is large or small or you are an individual contributor leader, is important. An effective plan and style start with a solid dose of self-awareness.

Transition Times in Career: A Great Time to Assess and Enhance Your Communications.

Transition points in one’s career are a great time to prioritize your work around developing and enhancing your communications style and approach. I work with leaders who are going through career transitions — job changes, promotions, re-entering the workforce, or just finding new demands in the role based on broader situational context (pandemic, company struggling/consolidating, company going through massive growth, new boss, and more). I’d love the opportunity to work with you to help you create a leadership communications plan and strategy for your own growth. I hope you will reach out.

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