How Leaders Can Make their Messaging Meaningful
February 9, 2016
Keynote Speaker, Author, & CEO of Profound Performance
More than one CEO has said, "Leadership is 90 percent communication," and research bears them out by showing that the way in which managers communicate with employees is one of the most important factors in driving employee engagement. The late Maya Angelou pinpoints the key to communication that engages and makes meaning: make people feel something. Inspire a felt sense of confidence. Build certainty and community. It makes the difference between compliance and commitment, meaningless work and meaningful work.
Here are five ways to ensure your messaging will truly matter.
1) Articulate a compelling vision that resonates with people's identities
Research shows that compelling visions make membership within an organization feel special, enriching, and meaningful in and of themselves. They also create meaning by appealing to and resonating with members' identities. Identities are formed through self-definition of core values and association with the organization's values. If you make evident how the vision supports known personal and company values, you've thus reaffirmed individual and collective identities. Similarly, when you communicate the vision in a way that strengthens the sense of community, the "we're in this together-ness," it further enhances the message's meaning.
2) Drive mission fit
Messaging directed towards helping employees understand how their work fits into the broader mission is powerful and meaningful. By taking time in your messaging to help connect the dots for your employees, you enhance their feelings of self-worth and certainty. Your employees also want to understand that what they are specifically being asked to do really matters and that it is worthy of their time and energy. Addressing these basic human needs is effectively helping to answer the deeply held questions: What's the point? Where do I belong? How do I Fit in?
3) Be confident when communicating
There is an old adage in leadership that says, "An organization is never more confident than its leader." When you communicate with confidence, it breeds belief and a sense of certainty. Even in the face of mistakes, your confidence should show up in the form of unswerving accountability as well as self-confidence in course correction, while excuses should be absent. As a confident leader, you can communicate hope even as you are outlining reality. You'll help create a sense of community as optimism translates into a pride of being involved in an organization with promise. Furthermore, when you communicate your confidence in the troops and their ability to carry out the mission, it nets an increase in your employees' sense of self-efficacy.
4) Tell stories of significance
Organizational behavior researchers Tom Lawrence and Sally Maitlis indicate that storytelling is a vital meaning-making leadership skill. You can make meaning when you share stories of "sparkling moments"--when the team really nailed it, when they overcame adversity, or when they achieved accomplishments that have been more broadly taken for granted. Such stories allow the protagonists a moment in the sun and motivate others to become the protagonist of future stories. Such stories provide hope and engender resiliency.
5) Share goals with intrinsic, not just extrinsic, value
How many times have you found yourself introduced to a big, honking goal and walked away uninspired? Odds are the goal was "for the man"--that is, to make more profit, to drive ten points more of sales, to deliver something that, in all honesty, you didn't really personally connect with. You can make meaning when you ask yourself a few simple questions before articulating a goal to the people in your organization:
- What's in it for them?
- How will this goal connect with them personally and emotionally?
- How might accomplishment of this goal help them to grow, and what else might it mean to them personally if the goal is achieved?
If you communicate goals with heavy extrinsic value only, you effectively say to the people in your organization, "You need to hit this goal because it's important to my advancement," when instead you should be implicitly saying, "Here's a goal that will advance what I need, what the company needs, and what you need in order to derive a greater sense of meaning, fulfillment, and accomplishment in your work."
As a leader, you spend a substantive amount of time messaging the troops. Therefore, you might as well make it meaningful and resonant.
I really like this article and would share something I read the other day about “purpose oriented” people, namely that they 1) want to make an impact 2) want to be challenged by new things 3) want to connect with others and have real relationships. If leaders can create that environment, their people will thrive.
Thx Dave, and you are 1000% correct. Create the kind of environment you describe, and people will not only survive, they will thrive!
Thx for taking the time to comment – I appreciate it.
Hi, Scott – another excellent post:)
I thought every point has clear and significant value, but the very first one really resonated with me. I believe that your combination of “compelling vision” and “people’s identities” reflects two essential components of effective vision. Too often, I have experienced organizations where one or the other was present, but not both.
I would also like to comment on something that is implied indirectly in your discussion of extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Throughout all leadership communication, being consistent and honest is also important.
People are smart and will see a false message. The leader who tries to “trick” followers into supporting some vision will not get the best sustained effort from them. At worst, they will sabotage the efforts of the leader, because they do not trust that person.
I know this is probably understood throughout, but I like to keep the aspect of honesty and trust in the foreground, since I have experienced the lack of same several times in my work.
Enjoy your posts tremendously:)
Thx John as always for your engagement. I couldnt agree more with your assessment that consistency and honesty are also critical factors in effective messaging. In fact, is there anything more transparent then when someone’s not being transparent?
I really like this line: “Addressing these basic human needs is effectively helping to answer the deeply held questions: What’s the point? Where do I belong? How do I Fit in?”
It seems like people just want to know their role, that there’s a place for them in the scheme of things, and that they can make an impact.
Dave – you are right. People just want to know that they matter in things that matter.
I have been listening to my 20-something daughter tell me about the changes that are occurring in her first career-related job with a fast growing company, so your message resonated with me. Based on her experiences, another bullet point in #5 could be: “Assure the team that the support they need will be there and explain or demonstrate how.”
Paula – right on! Visible support is critical for us to draw maximum meaning from our work. Thx for taking the time to not only read, but respond to my post!
Your request was for which one of the five holds the most promise. You surely like to make it difficult. All are important, as well as some of the other comments.
My choice would be #2 Drive mission fit. People have the human need to feel needed and important. If you let them know what they do is important to the whole picture they will give you their best. But none of these stand alone. You can’t communicate a mission without confident communications, without a great story, and it won’t have any intrinsic value. Without all five of these it is just like a puzzle piece, colorful but with no meaning.
Randy – thx for taking the time to engage and comment. I really like your thought that all 5 things in the post are required to make your messaging meaningful. As you say, “like a puzzle piece, colorful but with no meaning” wihtout all five!