A new report from the UK’s Chartered Management Institute, ‘The Middle Manager Lifeline’, found that only 36% of middle managers fully trust their leadership, creating a trust gap that is eroding business performance. To help bridge this gap, the CMI prioritizes improving ‘leadership communication’, pointing out that trust is a crucial metric in business and that how much a business leader is trusted is a vital measure against which the communication efforts of that leader should be assessed.
Traditionally good leadership communication was all about face-to-face conversations, everyday walkabouts, and effective presentations to stakeholders. These basics remain essential, but today's business environment creates ever greater communication challenges. Stakeholders can be culturally and generationally diverse, globally dispersed, and even philosophically divided, both inside and outside of organizations. Effective communicators need to know how to adapt messages to their audiences and how to harness the power of technology and social media to support their communication messages.
Dorie Clark, a former presidential campaign spokeswoman, and adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business draws on her unique experience as a master of traditional communication and social media channels in the Communication for Leaders program she leads at Fuqua. The program's stap-line, ‘Great Leadership Requires Great Communication,’ applies to leaders at all levels, to presidents, to the legions of middle managers at the centre of business, and to the C-suite.
The CMI research, conducted among more than 1,400 of its members, shows that although the constant task of communicating to create a trusting workplace culture often falls to middle managers, there are many senior leadership teams who fail to recognise the importance of clear, trustworthy, communication with significant consequences.
In their report the CMI calls on senior leaders to commit to open and honest communication with middle managers and challenges everyone, regardless of seniority, to act according to stated values ensuring those at the top are seen to be accountable for their actions and open to challenge. This they say requires the creation of meaningful opportunities for colleagues to meet and feedback to senior management, and investing in training and development at all levels to equip executives with the professional skills to communicate and manage their teams.
To understand the skills a leader needs to become a good communicator it is instructive to see these areas of improvement focused on by Fuqua’s Communication for Leaders program:
- Build personal and corporate trust-worthiness and credibility through communication
- Refresh and practice presentation skills for engagement and impact
- Incorporate feedback to increase your confidence
- Develop communication strategies that are consistent and disciplined
- Manage ‘hot-seat’ questioning from sympathetic and adversarial audiences
- Learn techniques for developing a crisis communications strategy
- Evaluate which social media channels will give you the best ROI
- Learn how to use LinkedIn and Twitter to support your communication strategy
- Analyze your online influence level
- Position yourself and your organization as experts
- Balance your online personal brand with your organization's brand
Good leadership communication can inspire, persuade, and influence when embraced with skill, confidence and credibility or it can have the opposite negative effect if done badly, in an off-hand way, or not done at all leaving a vacuum in which mistrust can flourish and performance decline.