February 22, 2023

How to Help Your Leaders Communicate Better

4 min read
By Khairunnisa Mohamedali PhD

Trust in leaders is at an all-time low. Only 43% of employees trust their business leaders and managers, a 16% decline since 2018.

During times of stress, uncertainty, and change, it’s natural for the finger to be pointed at those in charge. Despite employee engagement hitting record highs in 2020 as a result of leadership efforts to boost morale in lockdown, engagement dipped in mid-2021 as the pandemic wore on and leadership efforts waned, before hitting a seven-year low in early 2022.

As a result, it’s perhaps not surprising that now 52% of workers are feeling burned out – up 9% from a pre-COVID survey – and 48% of leaders now feel less confident making business-critical decisions compared to before the pandemic.

What can leaders do to rebuild confidence and reduce burnout in their teams? Studies by Gallup have shown that when people believe that the leadership of their organisation communicates effectively with the rest of the organisation, they are 73% less likely to feel burned out at work.

The good news? As with many great leadership qualities, mastering the art of communication is a learned skill that takes practice, failure, and the right tools to get right.

Most leaders are comfortable communicating in a variety of contexts to build relationships with stakeholders, influence teams to get results, and network in communities and groups. The best  communicators (and therefore the best leaders) are able to showcase their authentic selves, express ideas and concepts with clarity, and make their people feel heard and included no matter their level of seniority.

Here are three ways to boost trust in your organisation by equipping your leaders to be better communicators, influencers, and listeners:

3 ways leaders can build trust by communicating more effectively:

1. Authenticity is increasingly crucial

When people strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organisation, they are 4x more likely to be engaged.

As people continue to re-evaluate work in their lives post-pandemic, there is an increasing demand for authenticity and transparency from organisations and their leaders. Individuals want to know the values, purpose and stances of companies and their leaders before investing time in them – in fact, 73% of job searchers would only apply to a company that shares similar values to them.

Authenticity will resonate with your Gen Z employees in particular: as the first generation raised by the internet Gen Z are adept information finders and fact checkers, and are naturally curious about the legitimacy and behind-the-scenes parts of industries. Forward-thinking brands are able to better engage their Gen Z audience by incorporating transparency as a core part of their company values (see examples from Tony Chocolonely and Lucy and Yak)

To be an authentic communicator, be honest and sincere. Your people will increasingly expect you to be clear about progression, pay, and where they fit in the grand scheme of the organisation. Lose the jargon and be ready to answer some difficult questions – your people will want to know the answers.

2. Storytelling is a powerful tool. Use it.

Studies into memory and recall have shown that we are 7x more likely to remember a specific story over text alone.

Being able to tell captivating stories is essential when relaying a strong vision, goal, or objective. Good stories promote trust, engage listeners, and help boost recall. Instead of struggling to explain intricate mission statements, strategy documents, or project plans, stories can be easily remembered and referenced. By crafting and delivering an intriguing, genuine, and brave story, you can also solidify your personal reputation as an open and authentic leader.

Importantly, using storytelling to showcase a diverse range of journeys and perspectives will also go a long way for Gen Z, who are hungry to see (and challenge) the traditional perspectives and routes-to-success of the generations before them. A spotlight podcast is a great way to share your peoples’ stories across your organisation.

3. Listening is as important as speaking

When leaders help their people see how changes made today will affect their organisation in the future, those people are 7.5x more likely to feel connected to their company culture.

Being an effective communicator requires being a good listener as well. Asking questions and actively listening when communicating allows a deeper understanding of your peoples’ perspectives and knowledge, and helps to build trust, respect, openness, and alignment. In a psychologically safe environment, leaders are able to create honest spaces for feedback that encourage people to be open about their true thoughts and feelings.

Mass emails and company memos aren’t conducive to a psychologically safe environment that encourages communication. To create space, you’ll need to make your leaders accessible. Ensure they are visible, present, and actively encouraging questions and feedback from your people, whether that be an intimate Q&A panel at your next in-person gathering, or informal meetings with specific groups of people across seniorities. Importantly, ensure you have given your leaders the necessary tools and prep beforehand so they are able to comfortably and honestly answer any questions that may arise.

Not sure how to get started?

We’ve helped leaders at global brands like EY, Ocado and more launch strategic agendas through scientifically-designed communications and experiences. Read our Communications case studies here.

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