3 ways to train your leaders to become better communicators

Help your leaders communicate in line with their values and abilities.

Tips for training leaders to become better communicators

As our changing world requires leaders to become stronger communicators, those who know how to communicate best exhibit some common traits. Brad Whitworth, senior advisor of strategic services at Haiilo and International Association of Business Communicators fellow, shared his wisdom on what some of these traits are during the IABC World Conference in New York City last month.

Whitworth looked at the tips, tools and techniques used by winners of IABC’s IABC Excellence in Communication Leadership (EXCEL) Award, an honor that has been given out for 50 years to the CEO, president and manager directors who exuded communications excellence at some well-known global companies.

“Some of these things are ‘duh’ truism, but it’s also the scale upon which you are able to help move people,” Whitworth said. “You can find ways to match up these things with your corporate values and the person you’re working with.“

Here are a few of his top tips.

  1. Encourage leaders to share their vision and connect the dots

Whitworth began by recounting his time at HP, when fabled management guru Tom Peters was brought in and asked the leadership team who had a vision for their organization. Everyone raised their hands. He then asked who shares that vision, and all the hands dropped.

“So if you don’t have a vision that you’re sharing, and regularly reinforcing what it is that we’re trying to accomplish as a group, you’re not gonna be able to accomplish it,” said Whitworth. “And that sort of is true at that macro level, the CEO talking to the all-hands population, but you could also take that down to the department or this manufacturing unit, you really want to have that.

“Our job as communications people is to try to make sure that that high level picture is told, and then that we also need to work with all the supervisors and frontline people to make sure that they know how to translate from that top high vision level thing down to the everyday actions,” he continued. “So we’re the ones we’re making sure that that dots connected.”

  1. Work with leaders to walk the talk within their skills and abilities

Because most employees are trained to be great cynics if they hear words that are not in sync with actions, Whitworth explained, it’s crucial that communicators work with leaders to ensure that what they are doing matches up with what they are saying.

“You’re going to find that the skills levels vary by person also based upon some of the things they’re doing. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a coach at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business where I’m working with some of the students as they get ready to matriculate. But the fun part about that is you get some people who’ve been in the working world for two or three years they’re execs at Bain and Company or you know they’ve been out in the consulting world. You also get some people who haven’t been in the working world but they’re right out of undergrad school. And some of them have English as a second language. So we all come in at a different starting point. And we all have different finish lines for what it is we’re trying to accomplish. But part of our job is to make sure that the what they’re saying and what they’re doing are in sync.”

  1. Push leaders to reach out and hear what’s really happening

Whitworth shared a sentiment he heard from a leader at Kodak: “My job is not to sit in the office and wait for issues to come to me. My job is to get out and about and find out what’s really happening.”

Whitworth remembered a policy that HP used to have called “management by walking around” that followed a similar idea and encouraged leaders to get out there to find out what was going on around the business. They coached leaders to talk about business-related matters and conversational, non-work-related matters simultaneously. Ensuring that they are trained to be active listeners and break down barriers is key.

“Get to know people as people and people as part of the bigger machines, making all this stuff happen,” he said. “So don’t be passive. You got to get them out and about, and it’s an uncomfortable thing for some to do.”


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