The ability to deliver presentations confidently is an important leadership skill, but their messages will be more engaging if they are personal and tell a story, says Dominic Walters, leadership communications consultant and IoIC governance adviser.

26th June 2020

Getting people to commit to doing something involves explaining matters in a way that makes sense, giving the chance to question and challenge, and reassuring them that their views matter.


Leaders are the jewel in the communication crown – from the top team to line managers, they have the most impact on what people think, how they feel and what they do. 

IoIC’s recent survey, published in May 2020, asked people about their most trusted source of information – 43 per cent said leaders, with only 13 per cent selecting other internal channels. A further 37 per cent most trusted their peers and colleagues, who will themselves also be influenced by leaders.

This shows that, whether directly or indirectly, leaders are a vital communication channel.

Leaders will be even more important as we adjust to the new situation brought about by Covid-19. Organisations will need to be more flexible, diverse and understanding of individual circumstances and needs. Leaders will be vital to providing this close connection with employees and being the caring face of the organisation day to day, as well as ensuring that people are informed and able to contribute, raise issues and ask questions.

Telling powerful stories

Talk with many people about leadership communication and you will tap into their inner Obama. Most people equate “good leadership communication” with great oratory ability – being able to stir a crowd, paint pictures in people’s minds, and inspire them to do things. For many, leadership communication is about presentation skills and “being good on your feet”.

And in part, that is true. We can all think of successful leaders who have been able to shift crowds by the power of their words and their ability to present them, for good or ill.  From the orators of ancient Rome, through to JFK and Steve Jobs more recently, history has strong evidence of the power of the well-honed phrase, the dramatic pause and the confident, powerful voice.

However, this is only really a small part of the story. Really effective leadership communication is more about the ability to have conversations and to use stories and anecdotes to reinforce messages and bring them to life. Equally important is the skill of listening to what others have to say. 

It’s easy to underestimate the sheer power of leaders putting across clear messages, making them relevant, showing personal commitment and talking them through.

Flexibility of messaging

Different leaders have different communication roles to play. Often, people want to hear about big, strategic decisions from those who have made them – usually the top team. After that, they want to consider the implications, options and next steps with their line managers, whom they most likely know better, and trust more. Local managers are also better equipped to understand the issues faced by a team and help them ask the right questions and arrive at meaningful conclusions.

It’s also true that for leaders, not communicating is not an option. They are always transmitting messages even if they don’t realise it. Their every word, gesture, emphasis and action are scrutinised and interpreted by people, especially when things are uncertain, such as now.

Communicators knows that different channels perform different roles and will help bring about different outcomes. The written word (however presented), video and audio will help make people aware of things and perhaps develop their understanding.

Getting people to commit to doing something demands more, though. It involves explaining matters in a way that makes sense, giving them the chance to question and challenge, and reassuring them that their views matter. This requires conversation with someone who is informed and authoritative, who can give relevant examples and provide answers. This is why it’s worth leaders’ while to spend time on getting communication right and also why communicators are investing time and effort in enrolling and equipping leaders to be advocates and communicators.

Factors of effective leadership comms

For this reason, and following requests from members, the IoIC has worked with a range of senior leaders and communication professionals to identify the three key factors of effective leadership communication:

  • Clarity – messages must be clear, focused and simply expressed
  • Consistency – messages from leaders need to be aligned and what they say and how they behave reinforce each other
  • Conversational – asking and answering questions, building on other people’s views, sharing thoughts, ideas and laughs all help us understand and feel part of something.

Based on this, the Institute is developing a programme of interactive webinars to equip leaders to be effective and engaging communicators and help communication professionals support them in the best possible way.  To find out more, visit the Events page of the IoIC website.

Getting people to commit to doing something involves explaining matters in a way that makes sense, giving the chance to question and challenge, and reassuring them that their views matter.


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