Right from the outset, entrepreneurs must pay attention to every communication and opportunity for sharing their passion and vision. They must communicate effectively, so they can inspire others to come aboard. They must speak honestly and in ways that reveal their personal character and genuine connection. Yet, this sort of communication style can be difficult and time consuming – especially when demands are huge and time is scarce.
There is far more to being an effective and authentic communicator than most entrepreneurs believe -- at least when they are starting out. Even if you think you’re good at speaking to your team and motivating them, there’s always more to learn.
Leadership communication is a discipline and a practice: The more time, effort and heart you put in, the more effective you become. There really are no shortcuts.
That said, here are seven ideas that can help you focus your attention and improve your leadership communication.
1. Be authentic.
When you speak with your employees you must come across to them as real. This means sharing your beliefs and your struggles. Talking about moments of doubt but also explaining how you overcame them with more conviction and confidence than ever. Or perhaps share a story or two about a failure and disappointment in life.
My most convincing talks at Schwab were when I shared stories about my personal weaknesses and what I was doing to overcome them or my disappointments and failures and how I turned them around.
2. Know yourself.
Dig deep. Know your values and what motivates you. If you don’t know yourself you cannot share or connect with others. People want to know what makes you tick as a human being not just as a leader. Share this and make yourself real.
3. Rely on a good coach or a trusted advisor.
Developing good communication skills takes time -- and in the rush of business, that’s scarce. Having someone who can push you to examine and reveal your interests and passions is enormously helpful and the value is immeasurable.
4. Read up on leadership communication.
If you can’t hire a coach, read all that you can. I consider Terry Pearce’s best-selling book Leading Out Loud to be the bible on this subject, and assign it to all my students.
5. Make values visible.
Effective, empathetic communication and a commitment to culture can provide a solid foundation for your ideas and contribute to making it a reality. Many of today’s most successful companies have gone through dramatic crises. Their improvements often hinged upon genuine communication from the leaders.
For instance, think of Starbucks and Howard Schultz’s clear and genuine communications about the importance of managers and baristas being personally accountable for future success. Your employees want to know what you and the company stands for. What is the litmus test for everything you do? These are your values. Talk about them but you must always be sure to “walk the talk” and live by them.
6. Engage with stories.
As a numbers guy, it took me some time to learn that if you want to make a point and convince people, you can't rely on facts and figures alone. It’s stories that people remember. The personal experiences and stories you share with others create emotional engagement, decrease resistance and give meaning. It is meaning that gets employees' hearts and fuels discretionary effort, thinking and desire to actively support the business.
Once I was implementing a massive pricing cut at Schwab. I could have presented reams of data about this change and why we needed to make it. Instead I invited in four clients of the firm who had written me letters about why after more than 10 years they had decided to leave due to our pricing being noncompetitive. Everyone was engaged and quite horrified to hear this feedback. Getting the team’s support for the change was much easier after that.
7. Be fully present.
There is no autopilot for leadership communication. You must be fully present to move people to listen and pay attention, rather than simply be in attendance. Any time you are communicating, you need to be prepared -- and to speak from your heart. Leadership communication is, after all, about how you make others feel. What do you want people to feel, believe and do as a result of your communication? This absolutely can't happen if you read a speech. No matter how beautifully it is written, it doesn’t come across as authentic or from your heart if you are reading it. Embrace what you want to say and use notes if you must, but never read a speech if you want to be believable and move people to action. (And yes this requires a ton of preparation).
Your speeches are visible and important components of your role as a leader. Successful entrepreneurs are conscious of that role in every communication, interaction and venue within the organization and beyond. They also know that while today’s world provides a wide range of ways to communicate to your organization -- mass email, text, Twitter, instant message and more --connecting is not that simple. Electronic communication is a tool for communicating information -- not for inspiring passion.