May 12, 2020
There are several skills that leaders possess that are helpful in a crisis. Skills such as:
But the skill that has the most immediate impact, and helps or hurts a leader the most in a crisis, is the ability to communicate powerfully and prolifically. Over the last few weeks of experiencing the coronavirus, we have seen a variety of excellent and terrible examples.
Rather than rehash the news, we looked at data from 97,822 leaders and ratings from their direct reports to understand the impact of poor and excellent communications. In the graph below, we show the effectiveness of leaders communicating powerfully on the horizontal axis. On the vertical axis, we measured the percentile ranking on the level of confidence that direct reports had that their goals would be achieved. It’s evident from the data that leaders who were more skilled at communicating had direct reports who were much more confident that the organization’s goals would be accomplished.
Keeping others Informed versus Communicating Powerfully
The first step in improving communication is keeping others well informed. Often leaders get negative feedback from their direct reports about not being informed of changes, new directions, or decisions that impact them. The impact of keeping others informed has been measured in companies going through a merger. When a merger is announced, leaders are forbidden to share confidential information with their employees. This stern warning from the lawyers causes many managers to stop almost all communications with their teams. In spite of the warnings, other managers continued to meet with their teams often and talk with team members about their concerns. Even though many of the team members’ questions could not be answered, they continued to communicate. Managers who met regularly and communicated were substantially more successful after the merger, while managers who quit communicating had higher turnover and more integration problems post-merger. Everyone wants to be well informed and is frustrated when they are surprised by changes.
Many managers set a goal to keep direct reports and their managers well informed. Doing this is a beginning step of becoming a powerful communicator. The table below illustrates some of the differences between a leader who is an informer and one that is a powerful communicator.
Becoming a Powerful Communicator
To discover what leaders did to move from being an informer to a powerful communicator, we analyzed data from 97,700 leaders. Looking at the data, we discovered that there were five enabling skills that facilitated leaders in communicating powerfully. In our research, we found that if leaders were just above average on their performance on these five skills, their ability to communicate powerfully would be rated at the 82nd percentile. The implication of this research is that leaders need to have a reasonable level of skill in all five areas.
When we looked at data from over 3,000 leaders who were working to make improvements, we discovered that communicating powerfully was the one competency that showed the largest level of improvement. Every person can do something to improve in this area, and even a little progress will have a significant impact.
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