Straightforward and honest opinions from friends who are professional communicators seem to grow in value throughout the years. A gift of advice from one of those friends working in public relations prompted some reflection on communications and leadership.
A few years ago, a vice president of an organization proclaimed communications as the most critical and fundamental element to the organization’s success. When poor performance followed, the leader blamed communications for the situation. However, there were many other prominent and systemic problems contributing to poor outcomes.
“Joe, sometimes communication isn’t the problem,” my friend said. “Sometimes, the problem is the problem.”
So what do you do when the communicators are held accountable when an organization is struggling to successfully implement a new strategy or failing in other areas?
Digital, print, video and audio are simply tools in the communicator’s storytelling toolbox. However, the most impactful communications often include the leader telling an authentic and relatable story and leading by personal example. And when a leader executes these strategies, they eliminate one of the most detrimental elements found in today’s business culture—fear.
During a meeting of managers on a multi-million dollar project, a vice president was asked if the chief executive officer would attend any future meetings to learn about the project’s progress.
“I don’t think she’ll attend,” the leader said. “Basically, if this fails she’ll fire me.”
That statement said a lot.
The people around the conference table who we’re working to create a successful strategy and striving to implement many tactics were left questioning themselves as to whether or not there was true commitment to the project from the highest levels of the organization. Many of them were probably asking themselves if they would also get fired if the project was not successful.
Fear corrodes an organizational culture. Great internal communication and project updates may calm some fears, but it won’t eliminate fear. So while communicators must continue to look at the landscape and determine what will be the most effective strategy and tactics, leaders must set a tone of optimism, enthusiasm, camaraderie, and teamwork.
Sometimes communicators must defend their role when it’s being made the scapegoat. And if communicators continually developed good and ongoing relationships with leaders, together they can focus on improving leadership and creating a positive culture throughout the organization. Strong, mutually respectful relationships aren’t found in organizations where leaders are pointing fingers.
So, in your organization, is communication the problem?