Leaders: Good external comms does not equal good internal comms

Leaders: Good external comms does not equal good internal comms

Some senior leaders are great at getting their message over to the outside world. I had a boss once who was completely un-phased by taking part in media interviews and no topic seemed to flummox him. The listener was invariably left feeling positive towards him, confident that he knew what he was talking about and that he was a safe pair of hands.

In many cases, it’s a prerequisite for such individuals to be good at networking and making presentations, and a key part of their role to be able to make a good impression and a convincing case when they need to.

Some leaders will find this aspect of their responsibilities more challenging than others. But is it necessarily the case that those who are strong at communicating with the outside world will be good at communicating with their employees?

Of course, the answer is no. And that’s because the internal audience has different concerns and preoccupations from external stakeholders. When weighing up their leaders they will be thinking, consciously or unconsciously: Am I valued? Are they listening to me? Are they consistent or are they constantly changing in words and actions? Are they fair? Do I really understand where this organisation is headed and my role within it?

Just to add to the challenge, the leader’s communication also needs to be in sync with organisational values, standards, processes and procedures – otherwise a disconnect will occur and trust will suffer.

Westminster Business School, Top Banana and the Institute of Internal Communication have recently collaborated on a report looking at the importance of effective leadership communication in building trust within organisations.

The report draws on much recent academic and mainstream research in the areas of leadership, trust and communication. However, one of the ‘models’ I found intriguing dates back to Ancient Greece!

Aristotle had some views on effective communication

Aristotle had some views on effective communication

Aristotle identified three types of persuasive appeals; logos based on the logic of the argument; pathos based on the use of emotions; and ethos which is based on the perceived character of the person delivering the message. Are they trustworthy, believable, knowledgeable and a man or woman of integrity? If the audience does not trust or believe the speaker or writer, logic or emotion will have little persuasive force.

It could be argued that employees will be more sensitive to any shortcomings in ethos than the outside world because they are in a better position to observe disconnects in the words and actions of their leaders, and how these relate to the perceived values and activities of the organisation. Charisma and catchy soundbites will not be enough to engage this audience with you, and certainly not for the long haul.

So while an interview on Newsnight might strike fear into the heart of many CEOs, the task of consistently communicating effectively with employees, gaining their trust and taking them with you is just as challenging and requires a lot more stamina.

As the report points out, leadership today is not about knowing everything. Everyone is a leader in some sphere and effective collaboration ensures we can all benefit from each other’s strengths. Leaders need to accept help and advice from HR, training and internal communication professionals in fine-tuning their communication performance and, in turn, these practitioners have to be up to the task of providing this kind of support.

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