Effective executive leadership requires a keen ability to communicate. Some of the best leaders rely upon story telling to convey their message.
Messages take many shapes. They can be as grand as the “big idea”; the core vision for an organization. Or they can be as simple as daily instructions for small steps and easy tasks.
Yet communication breaks down when the people receiving the message neither respect nor trust the messenger. This puts a huge burden on the executive trying to bring the message.
What you and I do on a day to day basis has an impact on our ability to be heard when it is important to communicate. The way leaders are perceived by their cohorts and teams is an accumulation of events and circumstances. Your reputation becomes a benchmark for making your message heard. It has been said:
Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear your message.
Introducing Executive Intelligence
The Kouzes-Posner first law of leadership is that if you don’t believe the messenger, you won’t believe the message. Executive intelligence is about developing and sustaining the credibility of the messenger. Executive intelligence is a function of executive presence and emotional intelligence.
When we speak of executive presence, we are really talking about gravitas – confidence and consistency under fire; decisive decision-making; balancing approach-ability with seriousness; polished speaking and body language; as well as strong competence and expertise.
Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, requires self-awareness and control as well as social awareness and understanding. As people, we are drawn to individuals who possess self-confidence, and who are consistently adaptable and resilient.
We are particularly drawn to those who listen as well as they communicate, who are empathetic, who are invested in developing others, and who effectively manage and resolve conflict. Executive intelligence is arguably the most difficult and time consuming fundamental to develop.
In their book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard,” authors Chip & Dan Heath elegantly illustrate why. They compare the brains two independent systems to a rider and an elephant. The rider is the rational side whereas the elephant is the emotional side. Under normal circumstances, the rider is in control of the elephant. The instant the elephant goes wild, the rider is helpless.
The analogy is great because we can all relate to moments when our emotions cause a reaction we wish never happened after the fact – or to use Heath’s analogy, our rider lost control of our elephant.
The difficulty in developing executive intelligence is in the process of not only developing more control of our own elephant, but also understanding how to appeal to the riders and elephants of others to influence them to act.
The other key influencer of effective communication involves levels of trust. As the messenger, do you have the accumulated trust of your audience that allows them to hear the message?
In the situation where you are communicating to a work team you lead, you should have a standing level of trust. The history you share with the team should be solid. They should be able to take your word. There should be no doubt about the integrity of the message, that is, if you are delivering the message, it can be counted on.
This trust can be delicate. There are plenty of circumstances in which you as the manager cannot be totally forthcoming. There are moments when some information is necessary, but not all information should be shared. Those moments require real leadership; effort that maintains credibility while balancing the scope of how much you can or cannot say about a particular topic.
If you miss this balance, you lose trust. Your credibility suffers. Sometimes it is best to admit there are things moving around you that prohibit your full disclosure of what is happening, but you can pledge to inform the troops as soon as it is appropriate to do so. When you do share the rest of the story, your action should be recognized as honorable, credible, and trustworthy.