By Katie Bahr
Many leaders think executive communication boils down to internal newsletters, emails, or large presentations, when in fact it touches every aspect of business management. Executive communications require a broad range of skills, including:
- Crisis management
- Effective listening
- Personal branding and executive presence
- Productive meeting leadership
- Online presence
Strategic communication is the heart of business leadership. Below, we outline 4 executive functions where effective communication is key. Kimberly Pace, Professor for the Practice of Communication at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, articulates how clear communication affects each of these executive functions and provides insight for improving your effectiveness.
1) Articulating Your Strategy
The higher you move up the management ladder, the more communication skills play a critical role in your ability to be an effective leader. Dozens of managers depend on you to convey a clear strategy—one that carries enough power and insight for them to pass it on to motivate their direct reports. The further the message needs to get passed down, the more you’re part of a telephone game situation, where any misunderstanding can rapidly deteriorate your business’s effectiveness.
“An inability to articulate a clear vision—where the company is going, what its strategy is, and how we are going to get there—is the top sign that a leader isn’t communicating well,” says Pace. “If you can’t convey the vision, then team members can’t repeat and remember it, which means your business isn’t visualizing anything.”
Pace further notes that when executives bury strategy in complexity or too much information, it’s usually a feint trying to disguise a lack of clear thought. According to Pace, thinking like a CEO is the first and most important step for executives and managers to leading and communicating in ways that drive results.
2) Establishing Trust and Authority
A large aspect of business leadership is about creating a sense of who you are to people inside and outside your organization who might not ever meet you directly. Your reputation not only affects your career aspirations, but the confidence stakeholders have in your business. Personal branding helps you forge a connection with people that builds trust and motivates action.
“When it comes to personal branding, everything matters at the executive table. A whisper is a shout with the right—or the wrong—presence,” Pace says.
When you take the time to examine your own core beliefs, values, and motivations, it telegraphs across every element of how you communicate. Pace says that team meetings and interactions have a particularly outsized effect on how capable others perceive you to be, noting that how you carry yourself during the meeting, how you structure it, and how and when you follow up all communicate your personal brand.
3) Motivating Your Team
Team members not only need to understand who you are and where the company is going, but also what is expected of them. They need to be heard, and they need constructive feedback in order to truly get behind your business strategy and contribute to their best ability. Pace’s top rule for leading meetings that motivate: speak less than 20 percent of the time.
“One of the biggest communication mistakes executives make is neglecting to listen with purpose and meaning,” Pace says. “When you speak you must say things that are memorable, that are sticky, and can be put into action.”
Speaking less and writing more concisely demonstrate a clear vision and make it easier for team members to synthesize information and apply it to their work. Listening helps you understand team members’ personal goals and motivations and what problems they’re facing that you can help them solve.
4) Solving Problems and Innovating
Decades of Six Sigma and Lean management data have proven that listening to team members on the front lines and applying their ideas can be a huge competitive advantage for companies. To get to this point in executive communication, employees first have to understand your vision, embrace it, and trust you. Failing to see meetings as a business investment, where employees can contribute to improving processes, is a major and common communication failure.
“If you have a meeting or a town hall, think about how many people are in the room and the average you pay them per hour,” Pace says. “That’s absolutely an investment, but one with a large ROI if you have a communication style that gets results.”
In her Strategic Communication for Leaders course, Pace not only teaches frameworks for thinking, leading, and acting like an executive across all forms of communication, but also puts participants’ skills to the test right away. From taking a deep dive into what their LinkedIn profiles convey about their personal brand, to writing elevator pitches for their business vision, executives get continuous feedback for improving their specific communications style.
“Everyone needs a reality check on how they want to be seen versus how they’re actually seen,” says Pace. “Honest feedback helps you maximize your strengths and have control over your personal brand and communication effectiveness.”