Leadership Communication – by James K. Dittmar, Ph.D.

Communication, communication, communication. We’ve all heard and perhaps said it ourselves,” What we need is more communication.” Whether it’s from employees who work at Company A or volunteers for a non-profit agency, when things aren’t going well, frequently the cause is cited as “a lack of communication.” Often those who feel that way may not really know what they need to hear, but because the leaders of such organizations do not communication with them, people tend to blame that as the reason for “why we aren’t doing better as a company or agency.” Have you ever heard it expressed in these ways?:

• “If I just knew what was going on around here, I could do a much better job”
• “Why won’t leadership tell us how the company is doing?”
• “I wish I had been told that leadership was considering these changes before they made them”
• “Would someone tell me what we are doing this?”

Authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind spent time finding out how well organizations in today’s economic environment are doing when it comes to creating an effective communication climate among employees. In their article, Leadership is a Conversation, which summarizes their work, they concluded that leaders must develop processes that are more dynamic and sophisticated—most importantly, these processes must be conversational.

What must leaders do to make communication conversational? The authors identify four characteristics of organizational conversation:

Intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intentionality

Intimacy, how leaders relate to employees, is achieved through communication that is direct and personal. Leaders value trust and authenticity. Leaders “listen” to employees and allow them to engage in a “bottom-up” exchange of ideas.

Interactivity, how leaders use communication channels, implies promoting dialogue. Leaders talk “with employees” not at them. Leaders and employees use social media, blogs and discussion forums to interact with each other.

Inclusion, how leaders develop organizational content, encourages employees to be “brand ambassadors and thought leaders” by involving them in telling the company story.

Intentionality, how leaders convey strategy, means carefully explaining the strategic agenda of the organization, developing messages that reflect that strategy, and allowing employees to take part in creating that strategy.

According to the authors, smart leaders use these four ways of creating “conversational” communication—communication that people will listen to.

Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute. Prior to this Jim founded the Geneva College M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program in 1995 and served as Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies and Director of the M.S. in Organizational Leadership Program until his retirement in 2015. Should you have any questions, comments or feedback, please contact him at jkd@geneva.edu.

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