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WHAT and HOW We Say It Matters

How and when and where leaders communicate continues to be in the midst of transformation. It seems we’re always on the air in some way. Have you noticed? It is evolving as the whole landscape for leadership changes —involving all of us; stretching across cultures and many dimensions of difference at a breakneck speed. Each of us, regardless of position or station, is being touched with opportunities to lead in ways not thought about in the past. Today leadership is as local as any of us holding our cellphones to communicate on Twitter or Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, email, blog or ++++++. It is also as global and collaborative as time, distance, difference, and technology can take us.

Notably, many traditional principles of communicating as a leader, passed on to this generation, remain good and true. But with social media being clearly and increasingly in the mix of business everywhere, the idea of leaders at any level brushing it off as “I’m not that into it,”is surely a 21st Century symptom of becoming obsolete and perhaps, at some point, irrelevant. It still surprises me to hear the best, and sometimes the brightest, make such statements. At a gathering recently, I heard a group complaining about all the buzz about social media and the problems it was causing. With great demands for a leader to be skilled at enabling rich communication wherever they land in the world, both physically and virtually, it calls for bolstering up your skills with a few new added considerations and higher level of consciousness about the impact of what and how you do things and say things.

Enabling rich communication
First, what’s meant by the idea of “enabling rich communication.” In my book, Putting Our Differences to Work: The Fastest Way to Innovation, Leadership, and High Performance, Enabling Rich Communication is one of Five Distinctive Qualities for Leaders identified as essential for the global marketplace, workplace and community. This quality defies the notion of unilateral streams of thought by leaders in the past. It also helps to close the gap between layers of hierarchy within organizations of every kind that often destroy opportunities for INNOVATION. It relies on approaching dialogue and problems with a “beginner’s mind”—even as an expert. It reaches beyond asking questions or inviting input, when the record shows little is heard or acted upon. It places a new level of value on what others have to say, while upping the ante on responsibility and openness to listen with a new consciousness — one that is always mining for the better idea.

“Diversity is a kind of energy—a power which generates the new, the unique, the INNOVATIVE, the excellent….because one of those ideas may, indeed, be the piece which sparks the next great INNOVATION.”
— Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Enabling rich communication dramatically broadens the notion of open, honest two-way communications of the past. How about mastering three-way, four-way, across-the-world communication? It adds a requirement of trusting ourselves, and each other, enough to engage in action-directed dialogue, across disciplines—welcoming outsiders—in new and different forms that accelerate change and boost productivity in solving problems and generating new thinking and great ideas.

Common Mistakes Leaders Make
What we say and how we say it matters!
All leaders want to be great! Don’t you? Organizations, and everyone in them, needs you to be great. To complement your unique approach to enabling rich communication, here are three common mistakes leaders make in their desire to connect with people. How do you stack up?

1. Leaders often talk at people versus with them
Many of us seem fearful about sounding too personal or human, as if it were a weakness. Instead of saying, “I’ve been looking forward to talking with you about our new company strategy,” the leader has a one-way talk about “the company’s strategic imperative to engage employees in their new direction,” forgetting how it feels to learn that leadership is out to engage you.

2. Leaders say what they want without considering what employees need to hear.
Those statistics are impressive. The strategy models are right on — but most employees are longing to find out more about the your vision, how they fit into it, how much you need and value their contributions. Most listen, hanging on every word you say or type, hoping for a glimmer of acknowledgment or belief in what they are working so hard to accomplish for you.

3. Leaders often use too much head talk and not enough heart talk. Buzz words, shop talk, B-school jargon, or the latest trendy metaphors are often shelters to hide behind for many leaders. Using them is safe territory; they have no emotional connection, and mean little to almost everybody listening. Speak from your own passions — about what you love and see in the important work you are doing. Passion is catching.

“A leader must earnestly pursue the question, “How can I improve my human qualities?”
— Kazuo Inamori
Founder, Kyocera Corporation, one of Japan’s most admired entrepreneurs

Family Heirlooms to Pass Along
One time early in my own leadership career at IBM, I heard a presentation about Winston Churchill, one of the twentieth century’s great leadership communicators, given by James Humes, a well-known presidential speech writer and author. His wisdom has stayed with me and with practice became a reliable yardstick for measuring meaningful messages for myself and helping other leaders over the years. Churchill’s five elements for great oratory are:

1. A strong beginning
2. One theme
3. Simple language
4. Use of analogy
5. Appeal to the human side of a person.

If your message ever misses having the impact you wish it would, one of these elements is missing. You’ll be surprised how these work! Even as we communicate in myriad of new ways across the world, they remain a valuable yardstick to consider with something as simple as the tweets we share—a meaningful combination of words, links, and good intentions come across in 140 characters too!

Warm regards to all that stop by. I welcome your thoughts.


Debbe Kennedy
founder, Global Dialogue Center…a virtual gathering place
author, Putting Our Differences to Work

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