Communicating with Clarity (Leadership Practice 7)

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

Communication, by Paul Shanks, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The third grouping of servant leadership practices in the model emphasizes clear communication and the supporting of individuals toward outcomes for which they are accountable. This third cluster of servant leadership practices is focused on helping followers navigate toward effectiveness and include the following: (1) communicating with clarity, (2) supporting and resourcing, and (3) providing accountability. This week we take on Leadership Practice 7 — Communicating with Clarity

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of clear communication in the practice of leadership. Although all effective communicators are not necessarily leaders, all effective leaders must be effective communicators.

Effective Leadership Requires Effective Communication

In previous posts, I highlighted 5 Types of Leadership Communication and 7 Levels of Leadership Communication. As noted in these posts, leaders must attend to factors such as verbal and nonverbal modes of communication as well as diverse levels of communication from intrapersonal to organizational.

Sometimes leaders speak through their words. Sometimes leaders speak with their actions (or inaction). The question is whether or not the leader is being intentional in these various types and levels of their communication. Being intentional with effective communication practice will help leaders effectively guide their followers and teams.

Communication Basics for Leaders

As we consider how to help followers navigate toward effectiveness, the seventh effective servant leadership practice in this model is Communicating with Clarity. This leadership practice is about effectively communicating plans and goals for the organization, and research participants note several critical features of effective communication in the leadership role.

Key communication features noted by research participants included the following:

  • Honesty
  • Transparency
  • Authenticity
  • Clarity
  • Listening
  • Timeliness
  • Confidence without arrogance
  • Conciseness
  • Regularity and appropriately repetitious
  • Congruence of verbal and nonverbal messages
  • Use of a diverse set of communication media
  • Use of word pictures
  • Saying what you mean and meaning what you say
  • Avoiding emotionally laden and volatile communication overtones

Leaders: Communicate Often — Communicate Well

Leaders who learn to communicate effectively in a variety of contexts and through a variety of communication pathways are helping followers and their organizations navigate toward effectiveness. How are you doing on this front as a leader? What step can you take in the coming workweek to be more proactive in your communication approach with followers and teams?

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014

2014 was my first year entering the blogging world on the writing end. This new year marks my 15th year teaching in higher education, and this blog has been a great place for me to share some of the core lessons learned over the years. Blogging is a helpful pathway for sharing insights in a brief and accessible format. I have enjoyed learning a bit about blogging this first year, sharing reflections on leadership, and connecting with a many new people through this format.

As I look back on my first year of blogging, here is a list of the Top 5 Blog Posts from 2014. Feel free to take a look at these posts that drew the most attention from Purpose in Leadership readers.

Top 5 Posts from 2014

  1. 37 Barriers to Change 

    Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

    Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

  2. 7 Levels of Leadership Communication

    Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

    Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

  3. Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

    Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

    Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

  4. Leader Resiliency … Face Reality, Find Meaning, Forge a New Path

    by Arya Aiai, Flickr

    by Arya Aiai, Flickr

  5. 6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision

    mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

    mind_scratch, Ultima visión, Flickr

Thanks for taking an interest in the Purpose in Leadership blog, and I hope some of the blog posts in 2014 were helpful to you.

Blessings to you as we press into 2015 together!

– Justin A. Irving, Ph.D.

37 Barriers to Change

Barrier 4 - Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Photo Credit: Barrier 4 – Love Wins, by hji, Flickr

Change is an unavoidable reality in organizational life. Like death and taxes, change is part of life whether we like it or not.

Continuity & Change

One of the key thought leaders on managerial theory in the 20th century was Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker regularly emphasized the importance balancing continuity and change in thriving organizations. Organizational leaders have the responsibility of guiding their organizations in such a way that communities both benefit from time-tested practice (continuity) as well as creativity and innovation (change).

Because change is a reality leaders must engage, it is vital that leaders understand not only their goals in a change process, but also the forces that are working against change.

Hindrances to Change

I’m teaching a graduate course on organizational leadership this semester. Yesterday, our lecture focused on barriers to change. From change theorists like Kurt Lewin on to others today, it is argued that change may only take place if the driving forces working toward change are greater than the restraining forces working to maintain the status quo.

In light of such perspective on change, leaders must be aware of the significant forces, barriers, and hindrances working against change.

I see hindrances or barriers to change grouping around four primary domains:

  1. Intrapersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to individuals
  2. Interpersonal Dynamics: barriers that are related to the interpersonal relationships between individuals
  3. Team & Organizational Dynamics: barriers related to team and organizational systems and structures
  4. Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics: barriers related to the larger context within which organizations are embedded

In order to better understand the restraining forces at work against change, I present these 37 barriers to change grouped around the four above noted domains.

Intrapersonal Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Personally)
  • Risk Adverse
  • Complacency
  • Fear of Increased Responsibilities
  • Unwillingness to Experience the Discomfort of Change
  • Threat to Personal Values & Perspectives
  • Comfort with what is Familiar (peace before progress)
  • Suspicion of New Ideas
  • Focus on Self-Interest
  • Concerns for Job-Security

Interpersonal Dynamics

  • Lack of Trust
  • Resenting Interference of Others
  • Threat to Status in Community
  • Feared Loss of Power
  • Feared Loss of Positive Personal Relationships
  • Insular Approach to New/External Ideas
  • Feeling Excluded & Left Out
  • Poor Communication

Team & Organizational Dynamics

  • Focus on Past Success and Innovation
  • Social and Structural Self-Preservation
  • Institutional Focus over Focus on Purpose
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Feasible
  • Collective Perspective that Change is Not Necessary
  • Rule of a Change-Adverse Minority
  • Lack of Leader Vision & Leader Direction
  • High Cost (economic and human resources)
  • Failures Treated as Problems in the Organization Culture
  • Misalignment of Resources
  • Lack of Sponsorship by Senior Leadership
  • Lack of Training on How to Approach Change
  • Organizational Culture that Is Adverse to Change

Socio-Cultural or Environmental Dynamics

  • Fear of Failure (Organizationally)
  • Economically Uncertain Environment
  • Fear of Unknown Environmental Realities
  • Concerns for Organizational Competition
  • Lack of Socio-Cultural Awareness
  • Not Considering the Needs/Wants/Aspirations of Environment or Society when Approaching Change

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Change is a reality in our world. Leaders who grow in their awareness of the barriers and restraining forces working against change will be better positioned to find solutions and carve out a positive change pathway for their community. In your organization, what barriers to change are most pronounced and how is your community working to find a productive pathway forward?

Strategic Foresight: The Past, Present, and Future Focus of Leadership

Photo: In the middle of nowhere, Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Photo Credit: In the middle of nowhere, by Brian Koprowski, Flickr

Clarity and foresight are essential leadership characteristics. Organizations and teams need leaders who can see clearly in the midst of confusing organizational and environmental realities.

THE VUCA WORLD

We are increasingly experiencing what some refer to as a “VUCA” world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. More than ever, we need leaders with vision, clarity, and foresight.

FORESIGHT

Larry Spears argues that foresight is one of Robert K. Greenleaf’s core characteristics of servant leaders. Of foresight, Spears notes:

Closely related to conceptualization, the ability to foresee the likely outcome of a situation is hard to define, but easy to identify. One knows it when one sees it. Foresight is a characteristic that enables the servant-leader to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequence of a decision for the future.”

THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE FOCUS OF FORESIGHT

This thread of learning from the past, observing the present, and anticipating the likely consequences of decisions on the future is critical. Focusing on only one of these areas can lead to leadership blind spots. Using and embracing all of them brings holistic perspective to leadership.

Past: The past is full of lessons, but it is not where we live. We must look to the past. We must listen to the past. We musts learn from the past. But, we must not live in the past. We must not only celebrate the past glory days of our organizations and communities.

Present: We must be present in the moment we’ve received, fully engaging the lives and mission we’ve been given as individuals and as organizations. At the same time, we must not be short-sighted and only live for the moment.

Future: Similarly, we must look to the future in light of the lessons of the past and present. We must anticipate and make course corrections based on likely outcomes and anticipated scenarios. But, we must not only look to the future. We can be so future-oriented that we miss the people and opportunities that are right in front of us. We must not live in the future, but rather look to the future for insights that inform the present.

STRATEGIC FORESIGHT

Although all organizational members benefit from looking at the past, present, and future, leaders in particular have this as part of their core job responsibilities. Leaders must learn from the past and present and look to the future with strategic foresight.

Foresight is not about looking into a crystal ball to see the future. Foresight is about actively learning. It is about playing out future possibilities and scenarios in our minds based on the past and present knowledge we have of our organizations and world. It is about identifying with clarity what will be the likely future outcomes of decisions we make in the present.

FORESIGHT FOR TODAY

In other words, although foresight is looking to the future, foresight serves the present. Leaders look to likely future possibilities based on diverse possible decisions and scenarios, and then they return to the present to guide present-day decision making in light of this future-looking foresight activity.

As you look at the past, present, and possible futures in your organization, what narrative threads and patterns emerge? What lessons do these threads point to for your community? As you look to the future and anticipate likely outcomes of decisions, what decisions need to be made in the present to serve your organization in light of these desired outcomes?

Engage your leadership with foresight, guiding your present based on lessons from the past and foreseeing likely outcomes in your organizational future.

Visionary Change with a Plan: Remembering the Importance of Effective Management in the Change Process

Change, SomeDriftwood, Flickr

Photo Credit: Change, SomeDriftwood, Flickr

Change agendas often fail due to good visions that lack a thoughtful plan. I observed this in some of my previous work with smaller nonprofits. In these contexts, leadership energy was devoted to generating new ideas and visions for the future but there was not sufficient managerial energy devoted to plans that would support the enactment of vision.

Doing things Right

Peter Drucker noted that management is doing things right while leadership is doing the right things. Although leadership is focused on doing the right thing and casting appropriate visions for change, it is often management that focuses on doing things right. Change initiatives that are launched but not sustained often fail due to lack of effective planning and lack of doing things the right way.

Consistent with Drucker’s observations, John Kotter highlights the central functions of leaders and managers. Leaders focus on setting direction, aligning people, and motivating people. In contrast to this, managers plan and budget, organize and staff, and control and problem solve. Successful change efforts are not focused on only one of these lists, but rather both. Successful change efforts are not focused on leadership or management, but rather effective leadership and effective management.

Change Initiation and Change Implementation

Since leadership tendencies of setting direction often initiate change agendas, it is easy for change failure to occur in the absence of management. Without leadership, change fails due to lack of initiation. Without management, change fails due to lack of implementation.

What change vision are you pursuing as a community? Are you pursuing both effective initiation and implementation? How are you pursuing the change visions with a plan?

5 Types of Leadership Communication

Communication by Krossbow, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Communication, by Krossbow, Flickr

In a previous blog post I highlighted 7 Levels of Leadership Communication. In this post I will highlight 5 Types of Leadership Communication.

As leaders, communication is a central skill for accomplishing the goals and outcomes our organizations desire. We are tempted to view communication in very monolithic ways such as COMMUNICATION = TALKING. However, in the flow of leadership, communication is more nuanced than this. Yes, it includes talking, but there are other types and levels at which communication does and must take place.

Here are 5 categories or types of leadership communication.

1 — Verbal & Nonverbal

The first type of communication is verbal and nonverbal. Whether you want to or not, as a leader you are always communicating. This may be happening with your words, or it may be happening with your nonverbal cues. How many times have you been in a meeting with someone who is constantly looking at their watch or looking out the window rather than paying attention to the conversation in which they are engaged? Such nonverbal cues communicate powerfully. They powerfully communicate disinterest and lack of engagement.

As leaders, both our verbal and nonverbal communication matter immensely. What are you communicating with your words? What are you communicating with your nonverbal cues? Is there continuity or discontinuity in these threads of communication?

2 — Intentional & Unintentional

Communication may be verbal or nonverbal. It also may be intended or unintended on the part of the leader. This is the second type—intentional and unintentional communication. Saying the thing we wish to say, in the way we wish to say it, at the time we wish to say it is one example of intentional communication. But it does not always work this way in leadership. Sometimes we unintentionally say the wrong thing, in the wrong manner, or at the wrong time. Other times we may unintentionally communicate conflicting messages—saying one one with our words intentionally and another message with our actions non-verbally.

Our intentional and unintentional communication are both important. What are you communicating intentionally? Are you aware of what is communicated unintentionally?

3 — Conscious & Unconscious

The third type of communication is conscious and unconscious. This third type of communication builds on the above foci. Verbal, nonverbal, intentional, and unintentional communication can take place either consciously or unconsciously. I may be communicating something both nonverbally and unintentionally, but still be aware of it. The real challenge to leaders is that which is communicated unconsciously. This takes intentional effort to address. Such effort may take the form of inviting others to observe us and give us feedback. Unconscious communication may support our leadership goals, or they may be working against us. Others can help us pay attention to our approach to communication.

The discussion of conscious and unconscious communication relates to a concept known as the Johari Window. The blind spot and unknown quadrants in the table below represent unconscious areas. When we are communicating at these levels, especially when we communicate negatively, it is important to invite the feedback of others so that we may raise these areas to the conscious level and proactively improve the leadership message communicated.

Johari Window image, from Wikipedia

Johari Window image, from Wikipedia

4 — Action & Inaction

The fourth type of communication is action and inaction. As with the above types of communication, effective leadership communication practice must pay attention to both action and inaction. Kouzes and Posner emphasize the priority of modeling the way in their book The Leadership Challenge. Modeling the way is an example of positive action communicating a desired leadership message. However, inaction also communicates powerfully. For example, if a leader consistently avoids confronting unhelpful or unethical behavior on a team, this inaction communicates a powerful  and negative message to other team members seeking healthy and ethical team performance.

How are you communicating as a leader through your actions? What leadership messages are communicated through your inaction? What needs to change in light of these observations?

5 — Head & Heart            

The final type I’ll note is head and heart communication—communication at both the cognitive and affective levels. This distinction acknowledges that leaders communicate both cognitively and affectively. They communicate at both the level of the head and the heart. Challenges arise when leaders are communicating at one level while followers need another. In some ways, this distinction relates to the dimensions of intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation within transformational leadership theory. At times, followers may be need affective, heart-oriented, and inspirational motivation from their leader. Challenges arise when leaders communicate in just the opposite manner—communication at the cognitive, head-oriented, and intellectual level. Leaders must look not only to what needs to be said and how they as leaders need to say it. Leaders must also look to how followers and organizational members need to hear a message.

Do you tend to communicate more cognitively or affectively? Are you emphasizing your personal communication style preference in this area as a leader, or are you providing your community and followers with the type and style of communication that they need? Thinking of the head-heart category of leadership communication is one approach for adjusting to follower needs.

____________________

In light of the 5 Types of Leadership Communication noted above, what areas are your strengths? Which types are your growth edges? Are you inviting trusted friends and peers to give you feedback on how you communicate with others and how you may grow as a leadership communicator?

I’d love to hear how you approach navigating the complexities of leadership communication. Share your thoughts when you get a chance.

 

 

7 Levels of Leadership Communication

Communication

Photo Credit: Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

 

Effective leadership and effective communication are intimately connected. I often tell students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.”

For some of you, this is energizing. For others—perhaps those who do not like public speaking—this can sound intimidating. But whether we like it or not, effective communication is vital for effective leadership.

It is important to remember, however, that communication takes many forms, uses many mediums, and happens at many levels. While some leaders excel at public forms of communication such as plenary speaking or communication through mass media, others excel at interpersonal forms of dyadic and small group communication.

As leaders, the key is to know our strengths and growth edges as leadership communicators.

Here is quick list of 7 Levels of Leadership Communication that you may use to think through strengths and growth edges in your leadership communication practice:

  1. Intrapersonal Communication — The level of Intrapersonal Communication easy to miss in communication discussions. Intra-personal communication focuses on what is happening at the level of self-leadership. Before you are able to effective communicate with others, the leadership message must be clear to you. The level of intrapersonal reflection and dialogue is focused engaging clarity of thought before engaging clarity of communication. A strong intrapersonal communication supports strong interpersonal communication.
  2. Interpersonal Communication — Moving from intrapersonal communication to interpersonal communication highlights the importance of others in the communication process. Communication is not just about the message sent. It is about the message received. This necessitates understanding the other in the communication process. The following levels help think about the other on multiple levels.
  3. Dyadic Communication Dyadic Communication focus on the dyad of two people. How are you doing at this level of communication? As a leader, are you able to sit down with another individual and effective communicate your leadership message? Are you able to effective listen to the needs of others? Are you able to effectively connect these felt needs with the visionary direction of the organization?
  4. Small Group or Team Communication Small Group/Team Communication takes communication to the next level beyond just two individuals. Are you able to effectively work with small groups of individuals in your organization? Are you able to communicate in such a way that helps the team coalesce around a common vision? Effective leadership communication at the team level also must pay attention to working through and weathering potential storms of conflict.
  5. Divisional or Organizational Communication — Moving beyond the team level, organizational leaders also need to think about communication internally within the organization at the divisional and macro organizational level. Are you able to cast a compelling vision through Organizational Communication? Are you able to use multiple pathways of formal and informal communication to reinforce the central organizational values and goals?
  6. Public or External Communication — Organizational leaders not only need to think about communication within their organizations, but also Public/External Communication beyond the metaphorical walls of the organization. How are you as an external leadership communicator? Are you mindful of the various constituencies that have a vested interest in your organization? Are you finding communication channels that not only work for you, but also work for your target audience? Effective public or external communication helps to expand your organization’s influence in new arenas.
  7. Mass Communication — Finally, Mass Communication is an extension of public/external communication using methods from disciplines such as advertising, journalism, broadcasting, and public relations. Organizational leaders often are not experts in these areas. Because of this, effective leadership communicators at this level often partner with internal or external coaches to help guide effective mass communication for advancing the organization’s message.

Although few leaders excel at all of these levels of leadership communication, this list provides a helpful checklist for thinking through strengths and growth edges in your own leadership communication journey.