Exceptional Leaders Ask 4 Questions About Communication

In my early 20’s, I once saw a single-panel cartoon with a conversation between a wife and her husband.

In it, the wife asks, “Why don’t you tell me you love me anymore?” The husband replies, “I told you once, I’ll let you know if anything changes.”

The first time I saw this cartoon, it was taped inside a cupboard door in the house of an older couple. I was in college at the time, providing respite care services for their adult son who had severe disabilities.

I worked with them for over a year. I rarely saw them together, so I have no impressions about their relationship — other than that comic strip. It was taped inside of their cupboard door. I was curious about what meaning it held that justified placing it somewhere prominent.

My wife has yet to accuse me of being overly romantic. But even I am able to pick up on the idea that perhaps some things require at least some consistent effort and attention.

Effective Leaders Are Intentional Communicators

It’s difficult to think of an effective leader who isn’t an effective communicator.

Leadership is a relationship. Healthy relationships, of any kind, are built out of communication.

In my book, The Successful New CEO, I mention how communication is one of six essential habits for leaders. By this, I don’t mean leaders talk a lot. They don’t. Some of the most successful leaders would be labeled as “introverts” or even “shy”.

But they take communication seriously. The best are very intentional. Not only in their actual communication, but also in their efforts to hone their ability to communicate.

Effective Leaders Ask Themselves These Four Questions About Their Communication:How am I an example of the message?

As a leader, most people will not separate you from your message.

Why should they? It’s a question of integrity. Of credibility. And credibility is the currency of leadership.

Culturally, this is such a deeply resonate issue. So much so, the English language has formed idioms to express it:

  • “Talk the talk.”
  • “Practice what you preach.”
  • “Put your money where your mouth is.”
  • “Rules for thee but not for me.”
  • “Actions speak louder than words.”

When a leader’s behavior doesn’t match their words — they lose credibility. Without credibility, the message suffers.

Make sure your message matches your expressed priorities and behaviors.

How do my relationships reflect this message?

Closely related to the above statements, how you relate to others has a dramatic impact on how your leadership is experienced within an organization.

As a leader, it is worth paying attention to the closest relationships in your life. At the family level and the day-to-day work level, your true self will be reflected in some way.

The work done to build, strengthen, and even repair these closest relationships will actually improve your leadership.

This may not be easy. You may not be able to control everything that happens in these relationships. That is precisely why they matter. As leaders, we often have control or power.

But the quality of our closer, more intimate relationships — even at work — is less about control and more about trust and respect.

Relational dynamics have powerful ripple effects. I’ve often found that relational patterns at the leadership level are reflected throughout the organization.

If leaders are conflict avoidant, belittling, domineering, passive, distracted…this will be expressed throughout.

If leaders care about others, have integrity, listen well, stay curious, engage in conflict, and practice healthy accountability, this will be expressed throughout.

People watch how you relate. They hear your actions and relationships more than your words.

How do our systems or structures support our message?

When organizations grow, they formalize how things are done. Financial management, hiring processes, quality controls, customer relationships, sales processes, and so on.

These processes are structures or systems. They are often catalyzed into existence out of either a reaction to a negative event or fear that a negative event will happen.

Over time, this starts to mean an organization is accidentally built to avoid or prevent certain things from happening. Not to live out its values or vision.

What rarely happens is for organizations to actively think in advance about their values and their vision and then develop systems or structures that support those. As a result, organizational structures begin to feel like burdens or unnecessary bureaucracy.

When you see repeated, similar conflicts or problems in an organization — you’ll often find conflict or friction between the stated messages and the structures.

How does our culture support or reflect our message?

Culture is “how you do you” as an organization. It is birthed out of core beliefs, values, and vision for the future and is expressed in the kinds of decisions you make, behaviors you use, and the quality of the relationships you build.

Culture is to an organization what the “self” is to an individual. It is you.

Your messages need to be congruent to your culture. They need to reflect the shared understandings and values of that culture. When they aren’t, you can expect pushback.

Many organizational initiatives fail, not because they weren’t thought through or valuable ideas. But because the culture either rejected them or wouldn’t nourish them.

To introduce a message into a culture, you do so by ensuring it is aligned to the current culture — or being clear about how the current culture is being realigned with a different set of values. Part of this is being an effective storyteller — one that explains “why” this is important.

Will You Tell Me You Love Me?

As a leader, our work is largely done through communication. Important messages are communicated not just by announcements, speeches, or memos. But by how we live our lives, relate, structure our organizations and the cultures we nurture.

If we believe in our organizational values: We will talk about them and live them out.

If we are excited about our vision: Our actions, relationships, priorities, and structures will work together to get us there.

If we care about our people, everything about us should reflect that care.

If we value our customers, that should be clear in conversations, decisions, and policies throughout the organization.

Take good care,

Christian

Prioritize communication is one of the six leadership habits I describe in my newest book The Successful New CEO. If you’d like to read about all six, pick up a free copy here.

Originally published at https://www.christianmuntean.com on July 20, 2021.

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Christian Muntean

Christian Muntean

I help successful leaders and teams dramatically improve their performance. Guaranteed.

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