Imagine you go to a corporate town hall meeting in your organisation. Your CEO walks onto the stage and announces ‘I’d like my head of employee communications to speak to you on my behalf about the future of the organisation’. The head of employee communications then delivers the CEO’s talk standing behind a cardboard cutout of the CEO while the CEO watches from off stage.
No matter how well the head of employee communications speaks that talk won’t have the same leadership impact. The audience can see the artifice and will discount the words. A room that has gathered to experience leadership has been disappointed.
A ludicrous example? Yes. Would it ever happen? Let’s hope not. However I have seen CEOs stand on stage while videos play their corporate message with such polish that the lack of reality undercuts the authenticity and influence of the speech that follows.
However in too many organisations today the senior leadership’s messages on intranets and enterprise social networks are outsourced to others. Their profiles on the intranet or social network are cardboard cutouts with perfectly eloquent prose and carefully considered responses. Few people give these perfect words the attention for which they were crafted so professionally. People know these profiles avoid conflict by suppressing, not by addressing or engaging in it.
Leadership is about influencing others to action. Influence doesn’t come from perfect prose. Influence is an outcome of relationships built in aligned purpose, shared understanding, authenticity, capability and trust. Influence comes from relationships founded on shared experiences, finding solutions to mess and building understanding of real problems. Working through conflict is part of the process of leadership.
Leaders often express surprise at the influence community managers and champions have in social networks. They can see these individuals winning the respect of their peers because they are prepared to stay in the conversation, share and work relationships forward. These individual engage in the daily conversations and conflicts in the organisation and it builds their influence.
Don’t outsource your leadership conversations to others. Leaders need to engage in their own relationships with the strategic advice and support of communication and community management professionals. Embrace the mess & conflict of real relationships and expand your leadership influence.
A PostScript On Time
If you’ve read this far and still think ‘leaders don’t have the time for this’, then remember finding time is a question of allocating priority. What is the role of leaders if not to influence teams to better action? Greater leadership effectiveness is always worth the time.