I once worked with a large organization where the CEO would often head to the employee cafeteria for lunch.
One day I asked him why.
He answered without hesitation.
“Because I’m hungry,” he said.
I believed him. For starters, he wasn’t one to miss a meal. Yet beyond that, you could tell by the ease in which he’d chat with others waiting in the salad bar line, that this was no employee engagement stunt.
Despite the stature that his title carried, he was the type of guy comfortable talking to anyone. And, as he mentioned, he was hungry.
I often think of him these days when I hear pundits talking about leaders acting and communicating in authentic ways.
I’ve seen other senior leaders launch more formal “Lunch with the CEO”-type events where you half-expect their arrival in the cafeteria to be announced amid blaring trumpets. It’s out of their comfort zone, and it shows.
And it doesn’t do them any favors when it comes to building credibility and confidence among employees.
This is not to say that the ease at which a CEO lunches with others is a key measure of their success as a leader.
Rather, it just underscores the value of encouraging leaders to act and communicate in ways that fit their individual style, and will feel authentic to those they are trying to connect with.
As communicators we can play a key role in fostering that authenticity. Through the nature of our work, we develop a good ear for what looks and sounds credible, as well as capturing a leader’s true voice.
There are some simple things you can do to start helping your leaders communicate more authentically. Here are three:
Schedule an interview: I am always amazed when I encounter communicators who provide executive communications support, but don’t really know the executive, and what makes him or her tick. A simple step toward changing that is to lock down an hour for a journalism-style interview in which you get to know more about the leader’s background, experiences, interests, and philosophy. Hold the conversation in a setting where the leader can feel comfortable, and provide some prep questions so they aren’t caught off guard. Not only does this approach provide you with ample fodder and insights for upcoming communications, but the hour can also serve to really strengthen your relationship moving forward.
Create a process for ongoing feedback: Critiquing a leader’s communication approach and style can be tricky business. Often, leaders get accustomed to hearing a steady stream of positive feedback, and can bristle at criticism. One way to manage that risk is to establish a consistent process for capturing and sharing feedback that’s aimed at helping the leader continuously improve their communications skills. By getting the leader’s input into this process at the beginning, you set the expectations and avoid the leader getting blindsided by unexpected feedback.
Enlist outside support: Even with an established process, your organization’s internal dynamics—and the simple realities of the workplace pecking order—can sometimes make providing honest feedback to a leader difficult. Bringing in an experienced communicator who has a track record of helping leaders communicate effectively can help navigate this challenge. Such a consultant can bring a fresh perspective that opens the door to sharing important feedback that a leader might really needs to hear. Letting the consultant have the tough conversation can lead to a big improvement in how a leader communicates.
Acting and communicating in authentic ways can be a challenge for some leaders who are used to the status quo. Yet once you make it clear that you are simply trying to get themin their comfort zone, it can lead to a huge improvement in their ability to communicate, connect, and ultimately, lead.
Want to explore further about ways to improve leadership communications? Shoot me ah e-mail and let’s talk.