Leadership and Communication: the Broken Connection

Much has been written and said about the connection between leadership and communication, but sadly this connection has not always found its way into the practicalities of the workplace.

Arguably, the primary purpose of the CEO is to set and articulate the company’s vision and mission. In collaboration with his or her executive team, heady goals and exciting plans often emerge at the start of each year: new directions, new markets, innovative ways of doing things or even new things to do. Quite often these ideas are announced with great fanfare to the employees, and sometimes to shareholders and customers. In the minds of the executive, this constitutes communication.

Why, then, do so many of these great plans not come to fruition?

One reason is that those who must implement the plans and ideas—the front line employees and more junior levels of management—never really buy into the excitement, and that’s because the visionaries at the top don’t take the time or make the effort to communicate them effectively.

If you are a CEO with a vision or a great plan, ask yourself these questions:

* Do the employees share my vision?
* Do they even understand it?
* Have I provided a means for all employees to see where they and their jobs fit into my grand vision?
* Have we, as an organization, made it easy or even possible for those on the front lines of the company to implement the company’s strategy?

Answering the questions will be enlightening, but also difficult unless you actually enter into a dialogue with employees. But how do you do that? How can you have a truly meaningful communication with employees at all levels about these subjects?

One highly effective tool is the World Cafe. This is a variation on the tried and true small group discussion methodology, but conducted in an environment that’s set up to create the easygoing, comfortable atmosphere of a cafe. Certain questions are posed to the entire group, and then discussed at individual tables. They then move to another table for another discussion.

Give each group a copy of your mission statement or strategic plan summary, and then ask questions such as:

* What do I understand this to mean?
* How does my work affect the implementation of this plan?
* What can I, or my team, do on a practical level to contribute to implementation?

Other questions along these lines can be added, depending on what you want to discover.

The World Cafe process provides an opportunity, and creates a need, for people to discuss topics they normally don’t even think about. What makes it so exciting is the unexpected insights that come out of the discussions.

Senior executives who enter into such a dialogue with their employees will come to understand the true connection between leadership and communication, with results that can have a direct, positive impact on the bottom line.