How avoiding speaking opportunities could hurt your leadership career
While technology-driven change is accelerating around the world, the ‘2019 State of the Sector’ – a global survey of the internal communication profession – found that face-to-face remains one of the most effective communication channels for leaders. Conferences, roadshows and employee town halls were still considered to be the most effective face-to-face channels by 85 per cent of participants. And yet, when asked, only 19 per cent of respondents believed that their senior executives had excellent visibility.
It’s interesting to note that while leaders were rated low in visibility, they were said to be effective communicators by 57 per cent of respondents. With the combination of skills and opportunity, the question remains as to why leaders would not take advantage of speaking opportunities and how avoiding these could hurt your leadership and professional potential?
For some leaders, the resistance to speaking opportunities relates back to an issue of personality. When public speaking isn’t a natural talent then you might be more inclined to put forward more charismatic leaders or delegate responsibilities to other team members. For others it can be an issue of priority. The time and investment required to prepare an all staff presentation or keynote is high. When compared with the breadth of work to deliver it may simply come back to an issue of what is most important at the time.
When it comes to leading an organisation, every leader deeply understands the consequences of an ineffective leadership approach to finances, culture or strategy. But how many leaders really understand the consequences of a poor leadership approach to communication? The impact of ineffective or non-existent communication is felt throughout the organisation. It shows up in higher turnover, absenteeism, negativity and stress; and it perpetuates lower engagement, morale, innovation and productivity. But the impact isn’t just felt in the organisation, it can also impact your professional potential as a leader.
People can’t follow an invisible leader. When you choose not to speak, you are robbing yourself of the potential to build your leadership platform – and as a result – employees and team will often feel disconnected and disengaged. A 2018 Global Engagement Trends report by AON found a strong relationship between an ‘employees ability to communicate and interact with leaders at all levels of the company’ and their level of engagement. Speaking opportunities aren’t just a chance to inform people with information, they are an opportunity to build meaningful connection and engagement with the people that follow you.
A 2019 Deloitte report found that 81 per cent of respondents see ‘leading through complexity and ambiguity’ as a unique requirement for 21st century leadership. Because in moments of uncertainty when the narrative is open to interpretation, leaders distinguish themselves in their ability to create clarity. Speaking is an opportunity to reinforce your narrative and create organisational clarity. Netflix’s former chief talent officer Patty McCord puts it like this: ‘If your employees aren’t informed by you there’s a good chance that they will be misinformed by somebody else.’ Every time to stand up to speak is another opportunity to lead people by reinforcing your organisation’s purpose, culture and vision.
The global trust index, produced by the Edelman Trust Barometer, a global study into trust in major institutions, currently languishes at distruster level. Today’s leaders cannot assume trust and credibility; we must be willing to build it and earn it. Every moment you have to speak is an opportunity to build and strengthen trust and credibility with your team. As in any great relationship, trust is foundational and forms the currency of organisational commitment. People don’t just want to go somewhere; they want to go with someone they trust.
There are no unimportant moments to speak, because every moment you stand in front of your team or organisation is an opportunity to lead. It’s an opportunity to leverage your leadership platform to accomplish collectively in a moment something that might have taken weeks or months to accomplish individually.
Next time you speak, hopefully you will see it as an opportunity to increase your leadership visibility, to create organisational clarity and to build your professional credibility.
Written by Shane Michael Hatton.
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