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.

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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.

 

 

Leadership & Management

Lead the Way

Photo Credit: 3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

The conversation surrounding leadership and management is an important one. While management was a major emphasis in the 20th century, focusing on stability and control, leadership has come to the forefront later in the 20th century and into our current time. In contrast to stability and control, leadership emphasizes valuing change, valuing people, empowerment of people, and the central place of relationships in organizational life.

Leadership and Management Described

John Kotter provides a helpful overview of the distinction between leadership and management. Management’s orientation around stability and control is characterized by dimensions such as (a) planning and budgeting, (b) organizing and staffing, and (c) controlling and problem-solving. leadership’s orientation around people, empowerment, and relationships is characterized by (a) direction-setting, (b) aligning, and (c) motivating.

Processes vs. People

While management focuses on stability and efficiency of processes, leadership focuses on navigating people and systems toward change and insuring that the team or organization is focused on the right things. The language of processes and people is also helpful. Management tends to be more process and object focused; leadership tends to be more people and human resource focused.

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

The temptation is to raise one of these as more important than the other. Organizations and followers need both stability (management) and change (leadership). Organizations and followers need both efficiency (management) and effectiveness (leadership). In contrasting the two, I think my natural tendency is to focus on the big picture and whether or not we are making progress toward the right goals for our community. Because of this, I need to regularly and intentionally ensure that the managerial side of my departments is not being lost in the leadership emphasis.

Pursuing Both in Your Practice

Whether we tend toward leadership or management, we need to remember that our organizations need both. Make sure that you know your tendency so that you may give attention to balancing this out in your own practice and through the diverse people brought onto your team.

Leadership Insights from the Book of James

Photo Credit: First edition King James Bible, 1611, by bookchen, Flickr

Photo Credit: First edition King James Bible, 1611, by bookchen, Flickr

The Book of James is a significant example of a church leader who longed to exert positive leadership influence at a distance. Through this early form of distance leadership in the form of a letter, James is wanting to communicate a vision for how followers of Christ are to live faithfully under God’s leadership within their diverse and global contexts. Noting his audience as the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, James communicates visionary direction, helps to align the people of God behind this vision, and seeks to motivate those who are struggling in various ways. Here are a couple themes that stand out in reading James’ letter.

Rightfully Orienting Ourselves before God

While most leadership books do not begin with a discussion of rightfully orienting ourselves before God, James’ letter does communicate this near the start of his letter. James notes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (1:5). As leaders, we must understand the source of the visionary direction we provide for followers and our communities. Although leaders gain visionary insight from many sources, the implication of James’ teaching is that God is to be sought out for wisdom when individuals (including leaders) lack wisdom. My viewing God as a source for “every good gift and perfect gift” (1:17), includes viewing God as a source for leadership wisdom when wisdom is lacking.

There are many times I face challenging decisions in leadership—times where I feel like the answer is not immediately clear and I “lack wisdom” related to the situation I’m facing. James’ reminds us that we do not need to be alone in these moments. I can invite the Lord’s guidance as I face decisions that impact the lives of followers and the lives of organizational members I desire to serve. I can, drawing on James’ advise, “ask God” in prayer for wisdom and insight, and ask for peace and clarity in the face of anxious organizational times and unclear organizational decisions.

Rightfully Orienting Ourselves toward One Another

James not only advises people toward rightfully orienting themselves toward God, but also rightfully orienting themselves toward one another. Some examples of this in James are (a) the call to not show favoritism or partiality (2:1), (b) erring on mercy over judgment (2:13), (c) recognizing that the people we work with and lead are made in the likeness and image of God, have great worth and value because of this, and therefore we should bless rather than curse those around us (3:9-10), (d) treating those who work for us fairly and equitably (5: 4), and (e) and caring for the suffering and those in need (5:13-16; 1:27).

Leaders who rightly orient themselves before God and toward others are in a good position to lead humbly (4:6-7) before God and others and recognize that they are not in the task of leadership and management alone. I desire this in my own life and leadership, and am thankful for perspective from sources like James.

What leadership insights do you see in the Book of James?

Watershed Moments and Leadership Development

Just yesterday I passed a sign along the side of the road that caught my attention.

photo(1)

Photo Credit: Justin A Irving, purposeinleadership.com

The sign indicated a geographic point of separation between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds in Colorado. Watershed in this sense of the word points us to where water will drain from these mountain tributaries.

Watershed Moments

While this is a literal watershed place, leaders are often faced with figurative watershed moments in their development as leaders. Dictionaries define this sense of watershed in the following manner:

…a time when an important change happens

…a crucial dividing point, line, or factor:  turning point

…a critical turning point in time where everything changes that will never be the same as before

Watershed Moments and the Level 5 Leader

Leadership theorists point to related concepts as they describe how leaders develop. Jim Collins talks about events such as a battle with cancer, changed war orders, or religious conversion as creating a watershed moment for developing “Level 5 Leaders.” Collins explains that such experiences allow the level 5 seed to sprout in their lives. Robert Clinton engages integrity checks developing leaders face in his discussion of leadership emergence theory. These integrity checks are often watershed moments, shaping and defining the character of the developing leader.

Watershed Moments and the Twice-Born Leader

Abraham Zaleznik puts forward what he calls “twice-born” leaders in a 2004 HBR article. Zaleznik points to “once-born” and “twice-born” personalities, and argues that it is twice-born personalities who tend to be leaders. According to Zaleznik, while “once-born” individuals have fairly straightforward and relatively peaceful experiences in adjusting to life, “twice-born” individuals often do not having an easy time. Their lives and upbringings were often marked by continual struggle to attain some sense of order, and this struggle created “twice-born” occasions to grow as leaders.

Watershed Moments and You

If you look around at leaders we generally respect, they are often leaders who have faced watershed and challenging moments in their lives. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s overcoming of failure before leading the US through its historic watershed season. Consider Nelson Madela’s time on Robben Island. Consider Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”

Although the experience of difficult circumstances is not something we wish upon ourselves, these circumstances often define watershed moments in our own leadership development journey.

  • How will we face them?
  • How will we face opposition?
  • How will we face failure?
  • How will we face an opportunity to “get away with something”?
  • How will face physical pain such as a life-transforming accident or a battle with cancer?
  • How will we face the loss of a job or position?

Will we face our challenges as watershed moments? Embrace your challenges in life and leadership as opportunities to develop your character, courage, and conviction.
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As you think through your own leadership journey, what have been your watershed moments in life and leadership development?

Organizational Culture vs. Organizational Identity

It is vital that organizational leaders understand the distinction between organizational identity and organizational culture.

Organizational Identity is the visible and public dimension of an organization. It is captured by what is included in its public documents, websites, and public forms of communication.

Organizational Culture is the deeper essence of the organization, often present at the unseen or unconscious levels of organizational life. In his book Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein argues that organizational culture is essentially “…the accumulated shared learning of a given group” and “its pattern of shared, taken-for-granted basic assumptions.”

With this distinction of organizational identity as a public dimension and organizational culture as a sometimes unseen dimension, I use the iconic metaphor of an iceberg to capture this thought and distinction. Leaders who are only paying attention to the organizational identity that is above the waterline might inadvertently collide with the underlying organizational culture. Leaders must pay attention to both dimensions—both above and beneath the waterline.

Photo Credit: IMG_2863, by ravas51, Flickr

Photo Credit: IMG_2863, by ravas51, Flickr

Leaders must not only be aware of and communicate the public identity of their organization, they must also be aware of how this stated identity is either ALIGNED OR MISALIGNED with the actual organizational culture.

Organizations sometimes assert organizational identities that are more aspirational than actual. In one sense, this is helpful. We want to strive for improvement as individuals and as organizations. The leadership danger, however, is when the gap between aspirational identity and actual culture is unseen by the core leaders of the organization.

As leaders, we need to raise our awareness of where organizational identity and culture are aligned and where they are misaligned. Where there is alignment, let’s celebrate and tell the story. Where there is misalignment, let’s lead our communities toward our organizational aspirations with visionary determination.

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.

Right Vision…Right Time — Are You Ready for Change?

Do Not Enter

Photo Credit: Justin A. Irving, purposeinleadership.com

Change is all around us. We experience it personally. We experience it interpersonally with those closest to us. And, we experience it at macro levels organizationally, societally, and globally. Some changes happen to us—changes that we do not have much say over. But many other changes are ones we do have a say over…when they will be initiated…when they will be implemented…how they will be implemented.

One of the overarching themes in Peter Drucker’s writing was the importance of balancing continuity and change in organizational practice. Organizations need time-tested practices in the form of organizational continuity, and organizations need innovation in the form of organizational change. A core job of leaders is to know when to hit the accelerator to advance change and when to hit the break to reinforce organizational continuity.

Navigating Readiness for Change as Leaders

In discerning when to stop and when to go, the following model may be useful in discerning whether you and your organization are ready for change. The model is structured around two core questions: Is it the right vision? Is it the right time?

Is it the right vision — …for you as the leader? …for the members of the organization? …for those you serve as an organization?

Is it the right time — …are you ready for this change as a leader? …are the organizational members ready? …are those your organization serves ready?

Change-Readiness

Irving Change Readiness Model

Answers to these two driving questions point leaders to four traffic signals that may be used to guide their decision about whether or not it is the right season of change for you and your community.

Traffic Signal #1 — Do Not Enter … Wrong Vision / Wrong Time

Traffic signal #1 is “Do Not Enter!” When it is both the wrong vision and the wrong time, as leaders we need to hit the break on change and stop. Pressing for change when it is the wrong vision and the wrong time will lead to FAILED CHANGE.

Traffic Signal #2 — U-Turn Required … Wrong Vision / Right Time

Traffic signal #2 is “U-Turn Required!” When it is the wrong vision but the right time, leaders need to find a safe place to pull over and turn around. Pressing for change when it is the wrong vision but right time will lead to MISGUIDED CHANGE. Leaders who recognize this unique situation of organizational readiness and misfit vision will have the courage to make a U-turn and get the organization headed in a new direction with a new vision.

Traffic Signal #3 — Yield … Right Vision / Wrong Time

Traffic signal #3 is “Yield!” When it is the right vision but the wrong time, it is time for leaders to see and respond to the yield sign. It is recognizing that while the vision is right, the organization and its people may not be ready. This is often the hardest signal for leaders to follow, because waiting for the right time is difficult. However, pressing for change when it is the right vision but wrong time will lead to a FORCED CHANGE. Forced changes often result in failed change. Leaders in this situation must exercise patience and put people before goals.

Traffic Signal #4 — Green Light … Right Vision / Right Time

Finally, traffic signal #4 is “Go…Green Light!” When it is both the right vision and the right time, as leaders it is time to hit the accelerator and navigate through a planned path of change. When it is the right vision and the right time, this is a moment of OPTIMAL CHANGE READINESS.

So, are you ready for change? Following this change readiness model based on vision and timing will go a long way in guiding leaders toward the proper season for enacting change.