Most communicators we speak with find improving their leaders’ communication skills to be difficult. Leaders rise up the ranks by being very good at what they do, so many communicators acknowledge that convincing leaders they aren’t good at something is tough. They find actually changing their behavior is even tougher.
Teams often try to get buy-in from leaders by telling them they need to improve their communication skills. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t address the heart of the issue. When trying to change someone’s behavior, you are battling their natural human tendencies. So instead of telling leaders they need better communications skills, you need to start by helping them understand why their natural tendencies are not effective. You can build off of this eye-opening experience and use a structured approach to teach them a better way. One company who has done this extremely well is Vestas Wind Systems.
Vestas’ Communications team worked with HR to develop the following multi-pronged approach to help leaders understand their role as communicators and develop their communications skills:
1. Contemplation – Through assessing leaders’ specific communications strengths and weaknesses, Vestas’ program helps a leader acknowledge that their communications could be improved. CEC members, view a list of thought-provoking questions to ask your leaders.
2. Preparation – By simplifying leaders understanding of what good communications looks like, leaders learn an easily applicable new model of behavior.
3. Action – Vestas runs leaders through a workshop where leaders practice this new model of behavior.
4. Maintenance – To prevent leaders from falling back into old habits, communications provides tailored support through dialogue, coaching, and tools. CEC Members, check out Vestas’ Leader Communicaton Toolbox.
So what’s different about this? Why is this program so effective? There are many answers to that question, but here are two overarching reasons:
AWARENESS – Every successful leadership communications method we see starts with some sort of self awareness exercise. Vestas is no exception. In fact, the entire project started because of an employee engagement survey where employees indicated their leaders weren’t effective communicators. This was a real eye-opener for the organization because it demonstrated the power of self-awareness. Leaders will not change their habits unless they see a reason for it, so show them!
STRUCTURE – In most organizations, communication is an implicit activity for leaders. It is assumed that leaders should communicate and we all know what assuming does… The problem here is often a lack of structure. Without structure, communication remains a fluffy, tangential activity in the eyes of leaders. Vestas was able to make communications a skill that leaders are hired, assessed, and evaluated for by placing a method behind their madness.
Have any of your executives had an “aha” moment when it came to communications? Do you have the right system in place to build on that moment?
Here are some other CEC resources that will help you build a leadership communications program:
- Executive Communications Topic Center
- Vestas’ Leader Communication Program (full case study)
- Vestas’ Leader Communication Tools
- Leadership Communication for the Agile Organization (webinar replay)
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