I’ve always believed leadership and communication were qualities inseparable for highly effective leaders.
There is a myth out there that one can be an effective leader while also being a poor communicator. I don’t buy it.
What they mean is this person has great ideas and/or vision. Both extremely valuable qualities in a leader, but without the ability to communicate them clearly, they are not leading people.
There is an unbreakable link between leadership and communication that fascinates me. Here’s what I mean.
Leaders Gonna Lead. Thinkers Gonna Think.
It’s not enough to have great ideas or a strong vision for where an organization or group of people need to go. You have to be able to communicate those ideas to people in a way that is simple to understand and drives them to action.
People Need to See the Path Ahead
What separates a great thinker from a great leader is the ability to take complex ideas and visions, boil them down, and lay them out in a way that creates a simple (to understand) path for people to follow.
It’s the ability to say, “Here is where we’re going!” and follow it up with, “…and here are the steps we need to take to get there.”
I have been a part of organizations with big visions but they struggled to communicate those visions in simple terms. The organizations didn’t grow. In fact, they shrank.
Create Simplicity from Complexity
Often, the path ahead is not easy to attain. Sometimes, it’s even harder to grasp. There may be dozens of actual steps to take to achieve the goal. A great leader sees the dozens of steps and can boil them down to a handful of overarching steps her people will take to achieve the mission.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t ten steps inside every overarching step. Yet, by breaking a complex plan into a few simple to understand steps, it allows your people to feel a sense of possibility.
Fifty-three steps feels impossible. 4 steps feels probable.
A great leader says, “I know this feels impossible, but let me break it down for you and show you how we’re going to make this happen. First…Second…Third…Goal!”
If you look at how a football team takes the ball into the endzone, they don’t take it all the way in on the first play very often. Most of the time, a drive is broken into sets of 3-4 downs.
The coach never says, “Ok, go out there and score a touchdown!” with no plan to do so. The coach has a clear plan laid out based on research and study of the other team’s defensive strategies and tendencies.
Great Leadership Minimizes Uncertainty
Everyone alive today is experiencing more uncertainty than most alive just two years ago. With a global pandemic changing the very nature of how we live life, people are unsure of what tomorrow will bring.
Our governmental leaders should be in the business of minimizing uncertainty. Now, there’s never a way to completely eliminate uncertainty, but we can minimize or reduce it.
Cuomo’s Reclosing Threshold
Take New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, for example. He tweeted this week schools will reopen if the daily infection rate remains below 4%. In the same tweet, he said schools will “re-close” again should the regional infection rate top 9% after August 1st.
Oddly enough, a strategy I recommended for churches back at the end of June here.
We all want schools to open but it has to be safe. In NY we will decide based on the data.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 13, 2020
Schools will reopen if a region is in Phase 4 & daily infection rate remains below 5% (14-day avg).
Schools close if regional infection rate is greater than 9% (7-day avg) after August 1.
One thing I’ve seen over and over from public educators online is the fear that uncertainty is causing them. Before many schools announced reopening plans it was uncertainty that terrified teachers. After plans are released, it’s the uncertainty of sustainability that appears to be frightening teachers.
Cuomo nipped a lot of that by laying out a reclosing threshold for regional infections along with reopening information.
Did it eliminate uncertainty? No. But it no doubt reduced uncertainty.
Another point. Many state officials likely have some threshold in mind for when a transition in approach needs to take place. Not all of them are communicating those thresholds publicly, which leaves their constituents in the dark. More uncertainty.
The difference isn’t leadership. The difference is communicating leadership.
Another way governmental leaders are removing uncertainty is by mandating the wearing of masks in public places. On top of having the physical health benefit of reducing the spread of the Coronavirus, it also has the mental health benefit of removing uncertainty for patrons and workers in every organization.
No one needs to ask themselves
- Should I wear a mask in here?
- What if they don’t wear a mask in here?
- Am I offending anyone by wearing or not wearing my mask?
- Will someone call me out for wearing or not wearing a mask?
The mandate normalizes mask-wearing so people don’t have to stress over protocol. I know some of you will push back and say another person’s feelings would never influence your health decisions. That’s not the case for everyone. Some people stress deeply right now about any new environment they’re encountering right now. Especially, if that environment is inside. They want to feel safe and do their best to make others feel safe.
Contrast all of that with the current President who will say one thing off of a teleprompter in one moment and turn and tweet the exact opposite ten minutes later. This creates a massive amount of uncertainty in our country impacting our collective physical, mental, and financial health.
Leading When You Aren’t a Communicator
It is possible to still be a great leader while not being a gifted communicator. You just have to be aware of your weak spots and blind spots and staff them.
If you’re unable to communicate clearly to the masses, job it out to someone who is gifted and trained in communications.
Here’s the Catch:
YOU HAVE TO COMMUNICATE WELL WITH THAT PERSON!
One thing I see over and over in churches is gifted pastors (care and ministry for others) who are terrible at communicating so they hire a communications director. Once that person is hired, they expect the new hire to be a wizard at communicating ministry with almost no information.
It is still your job as a leader to get the right information to the right people so they can do their jobs.
Minimize the number of people you have to communicate with, but maximize the amount of communication you have with fewer people.
Leadership and Communication are Inseparable
I’m always surprised when I see someone qualify themself as a great leader when everyone around them complains incessantly about their lack of communication. You just cannot be an effective leader if you’re unable to communicate visions, ideas, steps, and timelines to your people in ways they understand.
Bottom line: Leadership and communication are inseparable.