Communication: the oxygen of leadership

enables life. It unlocks energy in the food we eat. Oxygen is to life as communication is to leadership. Leadership communication unlocks employees’ energy – their physical, mental and creative energy – to achieve high performance.

When employees walk through the workplace door, they have a choice. They can expend the minimum amount of energy on their jobs, just enough to stop getting fired. Or they can apply their discretionary energy to get the job done with extraordinary, high-performance results. The difference is effective leadership communication.

Effective leadership communication does the following:

– Connects employees to a shared vision.
– Provides context (the big-picture perspective).
– Creates shared understanding around a common purpose.
– Interprets what’s relevant for achieving the organisation’s goals and executing its strategy.
– Role-models the organisation’s values.

Leadership communication impacts bottom-line

Effective leadership communication impacts the organisation’s bottom-line according to the following authoritative sources:

– High-performing workplaces are up to 12 percent more productive and three times more profitable than their peers, with a profit margin difference of AUD$40,000 per full-time employee. Leaders in such high-performing workplaces have the ability to formulate and communicate a compelling vision, and to foster employees’ beliefs in shared goals and shared values. (Boedker et al, 2011).
– Organisations with high communication effectiveness provided a 47 percent higher total return to shareholders over five years (2002 to 2006) compared to companies with low communication effectiveness, and were 80 percent more likely to report lower turnover (Watson Wyatt, 2008).

– A five-point increase in employee commitment drives a 1.3 point improvement in customer satisfaction, which drives a 0.5 percent increase in revenue growth (Sears Roebuck).
– Engaged employees in professional services firms are up to 43 percent more productive in terms of generating revenue (Hay Group).
– 60 percent of all management problems result from faulty communication (Peter Drucker).
– 91 percent of employees who understand their overall role in the business will work towards that success, but the number plummets to 23 percent if they don’t (Bill Quirke).

Delivering a wealth of benefits

When leaders communicate effectively, there are many organisational benefits. These include:

– Improved performance through improved employee decision-making and focus of effort when leaders communicate consistent information and clear directions to their employees.
– Improved employee productivity, retention and advocacy (collectively referred to as ‘employee engagement’) when leaders communicate a compelling picture of where the organisation is going and how it’s going to get there, and actively involve employees in that journey.
– Improved collaboration and effective cross-functional working when leaders promote a co-operative exchange of timely information, knowledge sharing and a shared sense of purpose.
– Improved execution of the organisation’s strategy when leaders communicate and inspire employees to deliver on that strategy with enthusiasm and excellence.

Leaders Give Meaning

Pieces of information are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s hard to know how all the pieces fit together to create something meaningful without the picture on top of the puzzle box.

Equally it’s hard for employees to determine how pieces of information meaningfully fit together if there is no ‘big-picture’ context for that information.

By connecting pieces of information to the organisational context – its vision, values and strategic intent – leaders give employees the organisational equivalent of the picture on top of the jigsaw-puzzle box.


Helpful Tip

Deploy tactics that enable employees to derive greater meaning from their work.
Help them make the connection between the organisation’s strategic intent, and their contribution to delivering on those aspirations.
Leaders give meaning to the organisation’s values by consistently role-modelling the desired behaviors.

When employees can see the values demonstrated through leaders’ actions, there is greater employee alignment to those values.