Many of the defining characteristics needed for effective leadership — like having a vision, integrity, commitment and resilience – are innate. Fortunately, another quality, as essential for success as the others, can be learned–the ability to mobilize a fire-in-the-belly effort among employees to help the leader realize ambitious goals. Leaders can acquire this ability by observing and learning from the behaviors of leaders who deploy these skills, by being coached or by incrementally stretching employees beyond the nom to generate the needed commitment.
The power of the leader’s position alone cannot command enthusiasm and dedication from today’s workforce. Instead, employees must be convinced that the leader’s objectives are achievable, understand that meeting the goals will provide a personal payoff, and be inspired to make their own full force contribution. To generate the needed support from everyone in the organization, leaders must put their leadership on parade: They must be visible, crystal clear about their message and take every opportunity to demonstrate– live and in person– their passion for their goals. Unless they show how deeply they cares, few others will care and their plan may be seen as another flavor of the month.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Some leaders believe it is sufficient to communicate their goals to the workforce through the organization’s internal media, such as employee publications, intranet, or videoconferencing–the more sophisticated the technology the better. Many have become enamored with blogging because it makes possible instant communications with large numbers of employees– assuming they make the effort to log on. Tlhis is useful because it allows for repetition of the leader’s message, which is essential for making an impact. But using media is not a substitute for interacting with employees face to face. Media cannot convey the intensity of feeling the leader has for his plan nearly as well as human contact does. The very fact that the leader is there, and has left the comfort of the office to communicate with employees, gives the message importance.
Leaders must make his case loudly, clearly and consistently. They should seize every opportunity to speak from the heart in personal engagements with the employees, Thus allowing them express their message with absolute clarity and address any concerns the employees may have about it. As an additional payoff, the workforce’s views about other company issues will come through unfiltered. (Reporting of bad news at these meetings should be encouraged because it can be dealt with on the spot and not spiral out of control.)
Personal interactions with the workforce can take many different forms. Leaders can make presentations before large groups in auditoriums. There can be smaller, more informal departmental or function-focused meetings, where participants will feel freer to ask questions or present problems. Leaders who appear at these meetings without the usual retinue of direct reports signals that they are approachable and welcome interaction.
Leaders also can meet with a cross-section of employees in skip-level meetings, conduct spontaneous walkabouts to fill in the time between planned events, have lunch in the organization’s cafeteria, and drop in on the back office, the factory floor or a remote office where employees may never have seen them and will be particularly impressed. When leaders give employee awards at presentation ceremonies, the awards become particularly special. Praise from an employee’s direct supervisor is a strong motivator; from the organization’s leader it is even stronger. Effective leaders are generous with their praise whenever it is deserved.
PRESENT WITH POWER
Putting leadership on parade does not come naturally to some leaders, particularly those who have led primarily by issuing directives. But presenting with power is a skill easily learned. Once learned, it becomes a habit and each presentation becomes increasingly effective. In any meeting, large or small, the effective leader captures the listeners’ attention immediately, holds it for the duration of the presentation, and creates the kind of energy that generates action.
The leader should organize the message so it is clear and compelling, appealing to both the heart and head. Stories involve the audience and reveal the leader’s humanity, which is essential for establishing trust. They paint word pictures, with characters, settings and action. The leader makes deliberate use of wording, voice, posture, movement and timing.
The most powerful communication tools are the eyes. Steady, warm eye contact conveys credibility. Failure to make eye contact can signal unease, defensiveness or perhaps lack of candor. When talking with one person, the leader looks at the other’s eyes, then moves away to avoid causing discomfort. With a large group, he makes everyone feel included by making eye contact with one person in the audience for as long as it takes to express a thought, and then moves his eyes to someone else in a different part of the room.
When a leader is able to zero in with eye contact toward one audience member, surrounding audience members benefit too; studies have shown that all the audience members in the area around the person being addressed feel they’re being spoken to directly. Using the eyes this way also alleviates whatever anxiety the presenter may be feeling because speaking one-to-one to an individual comes naturally. In contrast, nervous speakers scan the audience, never finding one focal point, which increases their anxiety because the brain has too much information to process.
An academic study conducted by faculty at the University of Akron’s School of Communication in US showed that using the eyes appropriately is the single most important factor for communicating effectively.
GET OUT FROM BEHIND THE LECTERN
Effective presenters do not use a lectern, a barrier that separates the leader from the audience. They have no need for lecterns because they do not read from a written text. They understand that presentations that are read are considered old news and, as such, detract from the spontaneity that creates energy in the audience. Doing without visuals can be a particularly effective when the presentation is intended to inspire the audience rather than convey information.
Effective leaders showcase their passion by putting their whole body into the presentation. They support every statement with an appropriate gesture and make large body movements to underscore important points. They further accentuate these points with dramatic pauses or by raising or lowering their voice. Their choice of language demonstrates they are real because they avoid euphemisms, jargon and office-speak.
Although their presentation may appear spontaneous, they have carefully rehearsed. They’ve put aside extraneous content. They’ve identified Questions that may be asked prepared and succinct and persuasive answers . Though an initial presentation like this may require serious rehearsing, the process becomes easier as the leader seeks out opportunities to continue presenting. A seasoned speaker who gets a deep sense of pleasure from presenting can become encouraged to present his views about significant issues on the national stage. This further helps cement leadership positioning.
KNOWING YOURSELF AND THE ORGANIZATION
The “leadership on parade” process begins with leaders honestly assessing how the workforce perceives them and how they in turn views the employees. Mistaken impressions can hinder communication and, with that, the leader’s effectiveness.
Leaders may misunderstand the workforce’s values, particularly if he is new. They may have come from a company whose employees value making lots of money but their new culture emphasizes a concept like “do no evil.” Judgments from trusted direct reports will be needed because even a small change that runs counter to the culture can have large repercussions.
The workforce may not have a good understanding of the leader either. The leader may have served for many years but not been very visible. Unknowingly, the leader may be sending out contrary signals. Is the leader shirt-sleeved or double-breasted? Occupying a walnut-paneled corner office or at the center of the floor? Each is making a values statement. With these and other choices, leaders must project their true selves.
This is not a call for the leaders to improve their “image”– a mere artifice; honest, effective communication is authentic.