So how do I create a clear message as a leader?
In the world of leadership communication, our goal is to describe what needs to get done “simply, but without oversimplification,” to quote Marcus Buckingham, from his book. The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005.
In a world of ambiguity and subtlety, creating a clear and definitive message is hard work. The pathway to creating a clear message that can be cascaded effectively begins by taking time to reflect. First, talk to someone like a colleague or executive coach and share your ideas, challenges and problems. If this person is experienced in this level of work, they can reflect the essence of your message back to you in a helpful manner.
Second, once you have your message, be very careful in the selection of your role models or examples which live up to or embrace this message. In particular, make certain that your role models are people whose performance role models the key parts of message on a regular basis.
Third, practice giving your message. Rather than coming up with a new and better speech every time, successful leaders focus on refining what they are talking about and then seeking out a diversity of audiences to whom they can share it with through out the company. As Buckingham reminds us, “Discipline yourself to practice your descriptions of the future. Experiment with word combinations. Discard the ones that fall flat and keep returning again and again to the ones that seem to resonate and provide us with the clarity we seek.”
At the Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I talked about the importance of developing a quarterly message. Many people since then have asked me how do you keep it fresh so people listening are not bored by what you are saying? First, I tell them their message needs to be one people can see, hear and feel. Second, there needs to be systematic communication, i.e. a regular system of communication like an internal company newsletter, an internal senior level e-mail plus quarterly strategic updates and dialogues. Third, there also needs to be symbolic communication which is a way to make sure the message is noted and understood in a special way. For example, if the message is about wellness, then the symbolic message may be for the leader to commit and follow through on participating in Weight Watchers to loose some extra weight.
As a leader, one must not only have a message and communicate it well but also make sure it is getting cascaded down into the organization. According to Patrick Lencioni in his superb book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012), “There are three keys to cascading communication: message consistency from one leader to another, timeliness of delivery, and live, real-time communication.”
Which ever every pathway you choose to creating, communicating and cascading clarity into your organization, I have one small tip to share with you. By the time you are bored and tired of what you are saying, I guarantee you that someone is probably hearing it for the first time given how busy every one is with issues, problems and distractions these days.