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Communicating as a leader in uncertain times- are you doing enough?

A lot has been, and will be, written about the importance of leadership communication in times of uncertainty and change. This year, unlike others in recent memory, challenges leaders to communicate with a higher bar of clarity, consistency and frequency.

Leaders need to use clear, specific language. This is always true, but even more so now when the opportunity to clarify may not be immediate. Leaders need to send consistent direction to the organization. Again, this is always the case, but more critical now when teams and employees are unable to see and align readily in in-person workspaces. And, leaders need to communicate frequently during change and ambiguity. This is in part because the situation is fluid and in part because employees are distracted. Messages don’t last long.

How do you know if you are doing enough?

Here are four tests you can use to assess your performance:

  • Do you hear your phrases said by others in meetings, presentations and conversation?
  • Do you get questions that take the message to the next level?
  • Do you see your messages driving new/different action?
  • What’s the energy level when you share information?

If the answers to any of the above are uncertain, then you’ve got an issue. But, those tests are not enough.

Leaders not only need to communicate in new ways in the remote working world, they need to get feedback differently, too.

The challenge of getting useful feedback on leadership messaging is more pronounced in the virtual working environment. Leaders lose communication bandwidth in two directions—not just for the message to the organization, but for feedback in return.   Body language, room energy, buzz (both positive and negative) are all muted in a remote environment. Rumors and mis-interpretations happen off-screen and are more difficult to sense and correct.

Leaders have to make the feedback loop on communication visible.   How? Ask for feedback. Use surveys. Hold office hours. Check in with skip-level employees. Start by listening, not by talking. And then ask others for feedback with some simple explicit questions:

  • What do you think people don’t understand?
  • What concerns are people talking about when I’m not in the room?
  • What questions do I need to answer that I’m not hearing?

Think about the ratio between your “outbound” messaging as a leader and the rate of feedback you “receive”. For many leaders it is as much as 85/15. You can track the data for yourself for a day: how frequently do you communicate a key strategic message? How frequently do you ask for feedback on that message?

Increase your feedback ratio and you’ll be on your way to communicating sufficiently to help your team navigate these difficult times.