“Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.”
We have all heard how important effective, constant, accurate, and informative communication is to the effectiveness of a leader. Followers are hungry for information and they want to hear what a leader has to say; they clearly recognize the value in hearing it from the “horse’s mouth.”
As time marches onward and we cycle through different communications climates in our country, our communications must adjust. I have expressed my effective communication message before on this blogsite. This message takes that original message and expands it to reflect the effect of environment on effective communications for a 21st century leader.
I have observed in the past couple of years that our environment for communications has changed radically. We recognize that some leaders have become engrained in the political correctness movement and have adjusted their tone, content, and delivery methods as a result.
Some effective leaders have tried to maintain their tried and true communications practices and added exercising extreme caution with word choice, topic, tone and inflection, and as a result have watered down their content and ultimately the message. At times, it seems like honest communication has taken a backseat out of fear of reprisal.
Much of this is a direct result of the environmental shifts in our country that have become fairly hostile and quite unforgiving. It is not difficult to google and find a CEO, CFO, or COO who has been taken to task for a message they put forth that was immediately attacked and run across the social media paths at warp speed. It seems if your message is [trending], there is a 50-50 chance it is for the wrong reason. The end result is most likely an unemployed senior leader, a group or entity of some type taking credit for this occurring, and the bulk of the people left asking, “what did he/she do that was wrong?”
So, how is a leader supposed to maintain open, honest, transparent communications with their followers in this type of environment? I believe the first step is to always be yourself. You did not just arrive at being a leader. It took character, energy, diligence, ethics, morals, and values to get you here. You have followers for a reason and a piece of that is who you are and how you lead.
Stand Up and Speak Out. ~ Anonymous
Secondly, speak in open and honest ways. You have a message to deliver and you have many ways to get it there. In this present environment, stick with what you know has been effective in the past and perhaps look to broaden your platforms or delivery tools but steer clear of anything radical that can be taken advantage of by groups and organizations looking for a quick headline or sensational moment to capture.
Lastly, always keep your message focused on what needs to be said and who it is being said to. Do not allow your personal agenda or mixed messages to come through in your communications. Too often, it is these small indiscretions that actually reflect a piece of you as a human that are exploited and used negatively.
Communication is about being effective, not always about being proper. ~ Bo Bennett
A big piece of me as a senior enlisted leader was my resilience, passion, and drive. My resilience came from my family, my faith, my connection to the larger organization, and the desire to develop the next generation of leaders. I always communicated in ways that supported these pieces of me and also made my message more alluring and relatable. In my final few years of service (2009-2013) to our Air Force, I delivered a lot of public speeches and wrote many organizational level communications. During this time, our AF was constantly being analyzed and critiqued by an outside organization that was anti-Christian. Every opportunity they could, they ran some leader or some issue up the flag pole to draw attention to their atheistic platform. Leaders and followers were damaged in this process.
A lot of our AF leaders changed up their way of using oral and written communication behaviors as a result of this environmental change and there was even discussion of censuring out any faith talk that thankfully never came to fruition. I did not change anything in my communications. I always publicly thanked God for giving me the opportunity to lead and the responsibility to develop the future and I was able to connect that to the message that followers needed to hear for strength and effectiveness in their personal development and organizational mission.
Communications are critical to effective leadership. Communication environments change as society adjusts and technology advances. Effective leaders must be aware and adapt but not roll-over and present a message that is less than authentic, is not reflective of them as a leader, or that diminishes the expectations of their followers. Be strong, be effective, and communicate frequently with your followers!