Communication is important all the time. How you communicate with your team and your stakeholders can often be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project. Good communication is the basis for shared understanding, which ultimately leads to a shared, commonly understood goal with clear expectations of outcomes. All things that are essential for success.
As a leader, communication is even more important. As a leader, when you communicate with your team, be it over drinks on a Friday, or at a stand up, you are still a leader. How you behave, what you say, how you say it, sets the tone for the rest of the team.
One of the more difficult aspects of changing roles into a leadership position is how your relationships can change with colleagues who where once peers. As hard as it may be, as a leader, your role is to now bring confidence to the team. Be a source of support and comfort for your team. This means old relationships, perhaps ones where you could vent frustrations or gossip about others will, by necessity, have to change.
It can be awkward and sometimes difficult to maintain the rapport you once had, but at the same time, it’s crucial for you as a leader to maintain your integrity — to be consistent with your behaviour and treatment of others, nip things in the bud that you don’t want to allow, and never walk past something that you don’t want to condone.
When it’s someone you have worked with for years, someone who you may have done the same thing with in the past, it can be incredibly difficult to now have to stop that same behaviour. How you do this is obviously crucial to maintaining that relationship into the future. But it is essential that you be consistent and act as a leader should, otherwise not only will your credibility as a leader be questioned, but the next time it happens, it will be even harder still.
I personally tackle this by being as open and honest as I can, admitting that I may have done the same thing or similar in the past as well, but that it is no longer acceptable. Be prepared to provide your reasoning and the principles and values backing those reasons (and how they align to the principles and values of your organisation if you can).
How you tackle it is up to you and your own communication style and strengths, but so long as you do it with a genuine intent to be a good leader, display empathy to your colleague, then they will respect you for it. Even better, they will begin to see you as a leader and someone who can tackle hard situations, with integrity and empathy, exactly as a leader should!
Regardless of whether you lead a small team, multiple teams, a department or an entire organisation, the language you use and how you communicate will set the tone for every one else. Moreover, it will directly impact how your teams feel, not just about you as one of their leaders, but of the project, the department and the organisation. After all, by being in a leadership position, the organisation has clearly stated that your behaviour is that which is expected of all its leaders.
Personally, I find there are loosely two types of communication. There is the one commonly referred to as “corporate speak”, and then there is the kind that inspires, makes you feel secure in your job and engaged with your organisation.
The “corporate speak” variety tends to be directed to everyone and no one in particular. It will often contain vague statements and generalisations and be addressed to whole groups or departments (which is fine), but contain no way for individuals to understand how it relates to them and their role. Again, it speaks to every one and no one. This type of communication is also vacuous. No matter how much of this type of communication is being produced, people will still feel like there isn’t enough. This is because it isn’t! There is no content for them. They will quickly disengage and ignore future communications.
The second type of communication is the opposite. No matter if the communication is directed to an organisation of 10,000, it still feels like it’s directed personally to you. It makes you feel directly involved in the organisation and engaged with your leaders. I know this type of communication when I see it, because I feel a renewed energy to be a part of my team, my company and a deep desire to help my company and colleagues succeed.
Typically, how the information is framed, the context you provide, will make a big difference. Even if it’s as little as “How does this affect you? It doesn’t!” Everyone you communicate with will be asking the same question first — “How does this effect me?” and “Should I care about this information?” Make sure you address those questions, and demonstrate some empathy for the people you are communicating with — what impact will this have on them? Is it likely to make people upset or panic about their job? Do people even care about what you’re telling them?
If you are sending information to a wide variety of people, but it only materially impacts a smaller subset, then preface your communication with that information.
Similarly, people consume information in different ways. Some like a brief summary, others need more detail. While you can’t please every one all the time, you can provide a bullet list at the top (ie, an executive summary of sorts) and then go into detail below. This allows people to consume information as they prefer and digest in the manner in which they are comfortable.
Lastly, don’t simply re-post information. As a leader, simply dumping information links / copy into different communication channels isn’t going to do anything except confuse and dilute the content. If you are reposting, then put some context around the post. Include information about why you’re reposting and possibly context around how the information in the communication is going to impact them directly.
In the end, it all comes down to integrity and empathy. As a leader you must empathise with your team. You must think about what you are saying and how it will be interrupted. You must think about what you’re writing, the language you are using, and how that might be interpreted by the people relying on you as their leader. You must use language that is congruent with your values as a leader and the values of your organisation. Be open and honest, communicate with integrity and empathy and you will go a long way to building a team that will be inspired, energised and engaged by your words.