Originally published on November 13, 2017

Section 1: Leaders need to communicate authentically

Leaders may think they are communicating effectively, but the people they are trying to lead would frequently disagree. The reasons for poor leadership communication include:

  • Using corporate-speak, buzzwords, cliches, and other tired and familiar expressions
  • Having a ghost writer create a memo, speech, or script
  • Appearing in person or on video and coming across as stiff, formal, and impersonal
  • Talking or writing in a one-way direction, without listening
  • Using boring forms of presentation such as slides filled with bullet points and text

The target audience will tend to tune out, ignore, or be skeptical of such communications. They are used to hearing the same old messages, and will be uninspired by them.

When communicating, leaders need to come across as honest, sincere, and knowledgeable. They should speak in their own voice, really engage with their audience, and use techniques that maintain a high level of interest in what they are saying. Leaders should demonstrate trust, truth, and transparency in what they say, write, and do.

In The Seven Basic Principles of Radical Management, Steve Denning’s seventh principle is:

Managers communicating interactively through stories, questions and conversations: An underlying requirement of all of these principles is interactive communication. Unless managers and workers are communicating interactively, using authentic narratives, open-ended questions and deep listening, rather than treating people as things to be manipulated, none of the above works.

Here are some practical ways for leaders to communicate authentically:

1. Blog once a week in an internal blog.

  • Use a very personal voice, not corporate-speak, to tell real stories.
  • Talk about what you and your team are working on in a practical way so that others will better understand the work and how it relates to the rest of the team.
  • Ask questions, request comments, and then reply to them.

2. Actively participate in threaded discussions and enterprise social networks.

  • Ask for suggestions, and then follow up to communicate implementation plans or why suggestions will not be implemented.
  • Answer questions.
  • Share ideas, links, and tips.

3. Actively participate, present, lead discussions, and engage in conversations.

  • Regularly visit local offices and place phone calls to members of the organization.
  • Speak at internal and external events and training sessions.
  • Post, reply, and praise in internal and external communities.

For more, see:

Section 2: Act boldly, learn by doing, and share your point of view

Many leaders are smart, energetic, and capable, yet they may not be able to accomplish as much as they would like. As a result, the business world is filled with articles, books, and seminars about leadership. How can leaders get more things done, effect needed changes, and make a positive difference?

Here are three ways to lead more effectively:

1. Act boldly: decide what to do, demonstrate that your plan works, and deliver useful results.

  • Create or adopt an idea, brainstorm with trusted colleagues to refine it, and then pilot your innovation as soon as possible.
  • Demonstrate your implementation to other leaders and other interested parties, get users to adopt it, and prove that your concept works.
  • If you meet resistance within your organization, position your implementation as a prototype. Ask for forgiveness, not permission, from formal authorities, and work with them to transition your new process or tool from pilot to production.

2. Learn as much as possible about leadership and your field.

  • Read articles, blog posts, and books about your industry, areas of responsibility, and fields of interest.
  • Actively participate in relevant training, industry conferences, and communities of practice.
  • Gain practical experience by adopting new technologies, trying out processes and tools, and volunteering for roles that will take you out of your comfort zone.

3. Define, refine, and share your point of view.

  • Publish articles, blog posts, and books about your experiences, philosophies, and insights.
  • Post your ideas in communities of practice, solicit feedback and ask questions, and reply to the questions and comments of others.
  • Present regularly within your organization, to other firms, and at industry conferences, and invite others to do the same. Learn from others, incorporate their good ideas, and evolve your thinking.

To lead effectively, jump in and get your hands dirty, demonstrate your creativity and bias for action, and build a reputation as a thought leader. You will find that other people will be eager to follow.

Section 3: Lead by example, practice what you preach, and model desired behaviors

Executives and their staffs should not only communicate about key initiatives. They should actually participate themselves in a visible manner.

Employees are used to receiving messages asking them to use some new process or tool or to behave in a desired manner. They tend to ignore these requests unless there is some obvious benefit to them, they expect to be directly measured on compliance or punished for non-compliance, or they have a personal interest or emotional connection to the topic. Another way to get the attention of employees is if they see top management directly using the process or tool or demonstrating a task that they have asked others to perform.

You have to try out something in order to manage it effectively, so don’t merely delegate it to a subordinate, a task force, or steering committee. Instead, demonstrate that you are willing to do the very thing that you have asked others to do.

Members of the organization will watch the actions of their leaders and supervisors. If they perceive that the message is “do as I say, not as I do,” they will be unlikely to do what is requested of them. But if employees observe management actually taking its own advice, they are much more likely to follow suit.

“Practice what you preach” is a good motto. If you tell employees to join communities, you should visibly be an active community leader or member. If you want people to start blogging, you should blog regularly and let everyone know about it. To get users to edit wiki pages, you should create and edit some pages yourself.

Model the behaviors you want others to demonstrate. Share, innovate, reuse, collaborate, and learn in an open and visible way. If you span boundaries, build networks, and communicate openly, others will follow your example, and you will get the results you want.

At HP, an internal blog platform was created as a skunk works project in the imaging and printing group. Initial participation was limited to a few early adopters. Then the executive vice president of the group started an internal blog, and it was obvious that he was actually writing and posting himself, not through a ghost blogger. This triggered many members of the group to comment on his blog, create their own blog posts, and comment on each other’s posts. Morale increased, since employees could see that their senior leader was soliciting their advice and reading and replying to their comments.

Also at HP, a social networking profile called me@hp was launched and gained a small number of users each week. When the senior vice president of the consulting business posted her profile and sent out a note to the entire organization about it, there was an immediate spike in new profile creation.


Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/