Strong Leadership Communication Requires a Multifaceted Approach

As Seen In… Ketchum Perspectives

Over the course of my career, I have learned many lessons, but perhaps one of the most important is to keep your eye very closely on what I call the say-do gap. In fact, I believe all executives should have signs in their office that say “Mind the Gap” as a reminder. This is considerably more important now because so much of what leaders do is transparent to others the minute they do it. For example, CEOs today are being reviewed just as restaurants are, but the evaluation is on sites like Glassdoor and Vault. The result: You must make sure that your words and behavior align.

Another thing that has been reinforced, especially since I became CEO three years ago, is that face-to-face communication still really matters, even though we’ve developed technology that could essentially render it unnecessary. Virtual communication works best if you’ve established a face-to-face relationship first. Technology can certainly be an enabler, but there are times your audience will want to see and meet you. For example, I visited 20 countries the first two years I was CEO. Having that foundation allowed me to do more virtual communication the next year. By being there in person, shaking people’s hands, I was able to begin to build a relationship with them, so that when they next saw me on a webinar they thought, “Oh, I know that guy.” Relying too much on technology can be a crutch. For better or worse, the global executive will often be exhausted.

One of the biggest tests for leadership communication is a crisis – and there are many lessons I’ve learned in that regard over my career. Obviously, being as open as possible and getting the answers out as quickly as possible should be the priority. You want to make sure the media, employees and other stakeholders are getting relevant information as soon as it is possible. I have seen too many instances of a CEO and the legal department waiting way too long to communicate during a crisis – and it’s been a disaster. Of course, there are times when you won’t know the answer to a question – and it’s okay. Yet it should never be an excuse to delay communications. Instead, you present what you do know and what you don’t know yet – but be sure to actually follow through with the additional information as soon as you have it. Being transparent and timely is especially important in today’s world because we live in a 360-degree environment, and the news cycle has moved from 24 hours to 24 seconds (click to tweet).

Strong leadership communication doesn’t begin and end with one lesson. It’s something you continue to develop over the course of many years (click to tweet). All of those various experiences ladder up to a communications lesson that is personal and valuable. And it’s what ultimately helps you become a better leader.

Rob Flaherty is Chairman of Ketchum, the global communications consultancy with 130 offices and affiliates worldwide. He is on the board of the Arthur W. Page Society, the Institute for Public Relations and the advisory board of Room to Read, which focuses on literacy and girls education in developing nations. Follow Rob on Twitter at @flahertyrob.