“To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson wrote about the “foolish consistency” of “little minds” and the wisely changeable mind of great souls, but he also spoke a universal truth about leadership. He might as well have said, “To be a leader is to be misunderstood.”
Yesterday I spoke with a founder of a very successful company who has 25 years of measurable success and a remarkable reputation in her field, and yet when we talked about her vision and purpose she admitted, “It’s clear in my head, but nobody else seems to get it.” She is incredibly clear about her vision when speaking outside the company, to clients and partners and friends like me. So why the disconnect?
I’ve had the great honor of working with some amazing leaders in my time … creative, innovative, future-focused, visionary … and most of them at one time or another have had a hard time being understood by the very people poised to help them bring their vision to life: their employees.
The lone entrepreneur has no need to think about and plan internal and leadership communications. (We will always, it seems, make sense to ourselves.) But add employees, first five, then 10, then 100, and effective leadership communications will make all the difference … to speed, alignment and results.
As a leader/founder ask yourself:
- Are you the only one in your company who can make strategic decisions?
- When you are not involved in a project, does it veer significantly off course?
- Do your leaders wait for your direction before proceeding, even on seemingly low-priority activities?
- Do you receive requests for resources and budget for irrelevant projects and programs?
- Are you involved in the minutia, unable to find time for “big thinking” and strategy?
- Do you send direction to your team, only to find they have not acted because they did not understand what you wanted them to do?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have a leadership communications breakdown, and it probably starts with the most fundamental building blocks of an aligned organization: a clear and compelling purpose and vision, well articulated and consistently communicated by you, the leader, so that all parts and people in your organization can align themselves and their work with it.
Your goals in leadership communication? For your employees to hear you and your story, for them to know how to act on what you say, and for them to understand it well enough to tell it to others in their own words. If they do not, and can not, then you have not.
To paraphrase Shaw, the biggest problem with leadership communication is the illusion it has occurred. When I say “communicated by you” I do not mean just once at an all associates meeting, but over and over again. Leadership communication is not an event, but an ongoing process. Just when you become exhausted with the telling of your story, tell it again, and just then, perhaps, it will begin to sink in. Leadership communications is a daily responsibility of sharing your story and helping people have insights about their connection with it. And you can’t do it alone. You must invest time in creating the tools, sharing the story and empowering people to support you.
[How do you know you’ve done it? We’ll talk about how to measure your success next week.]
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Haley Boehning is the co-founder of Storyforge, a brand strategy company helping ambitious companies change the world by discovering their singular purpose, forging their story, and aligning their positioning, people, products and profits with it. Haley leverages 20+ years of brand and strategic communications experience, including 16 years as L Brands Vice President of Internal Communications, to create relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.