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Chris Stricklin is a leadership expert, drawing from his experience as a commander in the US air force, Pentagon-level management of critical air force resources and multiple NATO assignments. In this article he discusses what works and what doesn't in leadership communication.

As the Boss sits behind her mahogany desk, she does one last proofreading scan of the amazing email she crafted to explain her vision for the future of the organisation. She presses the send button and a proud smile emerges as she reclines in her leather chair, thinking of the clarity and focus just provided to her employees.

As the email transits the information superhighway to the inboxes of the company’s employees, Joe winces as he hears the familiar tone of a new email. He sees it is once again from the company leader with distribution to the entire organisation…which tells him it is impersonal. As the message opens, he realises the words are more than will fit on the screen. With a massive task load before he can leave for the day, he closes the email, unread, and does not think about it again.

Does this sound familiar? Do you know a boss who uses email as their primary means of communication and ‘motivation’? Worse yet, do you?

An effective leader understands the importance of effective internal communication. It serves as both a means to guide employees toward the ultimate corporate goal and, more importantly, a motivator to instill intrinsic motivation in every employee which will propel them, and the company, to levels of success beyond your dreams and expectations. To be successful, internal communications must adhere to four simple and basic guidelines.

Establish a common lexicon. As an air force fighter pilot, my community truly understands the importance of a common lexicon. If someone outside our community listens to us talk, with code words and acronyms, they may never follow the conversation but to us these abbreviations, terms and descriptors are second nature. Now, you do not need to go to that extreme but your organisation should have established phrases, descriptions and goals that everyone understands. This will create a sense of teamwork and belonging to something larger than oneself.

Make the vision…their vision. Every leader understands the importance of establishing a clear vision for the future of the organisation. Effective leaders understand a vision statement is worthless unless it is understood and commonly repeated by all members of the team. The vision must be firmly established in the lexicon of the entire team. When a visitor or customer enters the organisation, the vision must be a basis for all to fall back on and incorporate into their conversation. To do this, everyone must understand how they, individually, are critical to the achievement of the goal and only then will it inspire, energise and create a mental picture of the future goal for every follower.

Intrinsically motivate the team. How do the employees talk about the organisation? Do they choose pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘their’ when talking about the company or do they reveal ownership and belonging through their use of phrases like ‘our company’ and ‘our vision’ ? If the company has successfully developed a lexicon and made the vision theirs, then each and every one of the team members should be intrinsically motivated.

Seek feedback from the experts. This seems simple, but most people look in the wrong place for feedback. True experts are not found in consultants or C-Suite executives. They are the team members on the line, turning wrenches or interacting with customers. To be effective, ‘walk the line’ and get out from behind the computer. Join in the water cooler/coffee pot discussion. Ask people their opinion. Then ask them again. Then ask them a third time. They hold the secrets to make the organisation more effective, more efficient and more successful. Notice there were three asks. The first is a formality and will garner niceties and nothing of substance. The second will make the team member a little uncomfortable. The third will show them you are serious about feedback, about their recommendations and observations, and will open the door of discussion. As Matthew Fritz explained in his 3 Signs You’re an Insulated Leader, every leader must “seek honest, reliable feedback where the rubber meets the road. “ Everyone must be empowered to question everything and always seek positive change in the organisation.

Although these four basic guidelines are simple to read about, the skill is found in implementing them in the organisation. Each of you must determine how to best instill them in the team. This must be done through personal interaction, repetition and sincerity. Feel like it cannot be done? Let’s examine this article. In the beginning, we discussed the ‘boss’ and ‘employee’…but by the end, we were using leader and team member. Did you notice the subtle but crucial change? Internal communication must be deliberate, continuous and multi-directional. It must embrace the team like family conversation around the dinner table. An effective leader understands that to be successful, their followers must both be successful and care about the success of the organisation. An effective team knows they are each vital to the success of the organisation…and each of them are leaders in their arena.

Chris Stricklin is chief growth officer and associate curator at the General Leadership Foundation.

Keep an eye on the IoIC LinkedIn company page for notifications of new pieces in our 'Another view' series - unique insights on internal comms from business leaders, HR specialists and experts from a variety of fields.
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