By Mike Klein on August 31, 2023
4 minute read

Since launching the #WeLeadComms initiative, one of my aims has been to promote the idea that “communication leadership” is not some lofty, hierarchy-based aspiration.  

It's actually something any communication pro can practice on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. 

By "Communication Leader, "I Don't Mean "Chief Communication Officer" Or Some Other Official Title.  

Instead, I mean communication leadership as: the application of conscious initiative and action to improve the likelihood that the outcomes we, our communities and our enterprises seek will succeed. 

One of the downsides of being a “communication professional” is that the rest of the world doesn’t always draw a direct line between investment in our efforts and the success of those outcomes.  

Indeed, much of the conversation among communication professionals for many years has been about how little recognition they get, and how they get passed over in the decision-making process because “they don’t have a seat at ‘the table’.” 

But The Mindset, And Particularly, The Action Set of Communication Leadership Turns The Table On That Complaint 

As I shared with H&H's magazine four years ago, I identified the real joy in communication leadership when I discussed my 20-year career as an internal communicator. “I am an internal communicator because there is something addictive about it. What makes internal comms addictive is the ability to see the impact of your work, live and in real time.” 

I’ve learned, through my work identifying communication leaders across the communication disciplines, that that joy is not limited to internal communicators - it is a driver of many of those pros around the world who take the initiative, do more than the minimum, and act as true communication leaders.   

So, What Does Initiative Look Like?   

Initiative is not about seeking permission.  

Initiative is about making the most of the permission you already have, and taking tangible steps to move things forward.   

Here are some steps I recommend: 

1. Ask Great Questions

For me, the first step is to focus on asking great questions. 

In my experience, communication leaders can often get away with asking harder, deeper and more open questions than their peers. This is certainly true in private settings, and can even be true in more public settings like town-hall sessions. 

I have two particular “tricks” for asking questions that yield stronger and less predictable results. 

The first is to ask for three answers to a question: “what are your three biggest challenges?,”; “what are your three biggest competitive pressures?”. 

The second is to ask the same basic question from different angles: “what are your biggest challenges?”; “what are your most pressing challenges?” 

In asking open questions that probe more widely and deeply, you open up possibilities of bringing fresher ideas and a sharper context to your conversation so it can move in more inspiring directions. 

2. Generate And Share Insightful Data

A second way communication leaders can have tangible impact is to generate and share insightful data – even if it isn’t perfect.   

(As an example, have a look at my recent research with #WeLeadComms honorees on how they see the biggest challenges - and the biggest opportunities - facing the profession today.)  

Measurement is something that senior leaders love, in part because injecting real numbers can accelerate understanding and speed up conversations. And by “measurement,” I don’t mean measuring eyeballs and hits. 

I mean measuring changes in attitudes, and tracking the extent to which your stakeholders embrace or reject the language you use to describe the changes you want to see in your organizations, markets and communities. 

Don’t just ask. Listen. 

Don’t just listen. Baseline 

Don’t just baseline. Track. 

Don’t just analyze. Share.

3. Seize The Power of The Pen (Or Touchpad)

This leads us to a key and related concept, a third approach: “seizing the power of the pen (or the touchpad).” 

As communication leaders, we are not secretaries.  

We don’t take dictation – we are authors who propose new ideas.  

We create new language and sharpen messages – and actions – as editors of outcomes as well as editors of texts. 

For those who write, my main piece of advice in this regard is to “draft ambitiously and embrace being edited”. 

For those who edit, my request is to remember that you are not here to edit texts, but to influence the thinking and actions in the community into which those words are received. 

Words have influence. And even in a world that prizes digital and visual brilliance and the certainty of numbers, it is words that are our currency.

4. Watch The Tone

A lot of communication efforts that fail do so because they are inappropriate.   

The point of departure for any piece of communication should be whether it is respectful - whether it reflects factual reality, provides the audience a choice of whether to accept it or not, and offers a pathway to action. 

But tone is where a lot of organizations mess up.   

Because when they're telling people, or talking at people, they're not respecting their level of agency or choice.  

Bad communication is usually a function of bad tone, and tone is often something that communication leaders can do something about.

5. Mobilize Your Satisfied Customers

The fifth and final opportunity I will share today is for you to mobilize your satisfied customers. 

These are the people who can testify to the impact that you deliver, and to the value that your interventions create for their organizations and for them individually. 

They can also provide access to new networks, and also function as sources for the case stories you will share about your work. 

Mike-quote-internal-comms (1)

There's a Big Difference Between "Leadership Communication" And "Communication Leadership"

You look at the term “leadership communication” on Google, or you walk into a library, and there will be thousands of books, tens of thousands of articles, about how to help “leaders” communicate more effectively.   

But there's no book right now on how a communication professional can actually take on the mantle of leadership in their organization or community, and how they initiate things so that the outcomes their community and their organization seek become reality. 

Partly, that’s because communication leadership is a new conversation. 

Partly, because it’s much more simple - the conscious application of a few basic things. 

I Am Sure Many Of You Are Already Doing These Things.

If you are, keep it up, and spread the word with your colleagues. 

If you are seeking to have more impact, ask yourself what more you can do, what more you can learn, and who else you can join forces with. 

“We are the ones we have been waiting for, we are the change we seek.” 

For communication leaders, the joy of seeing that change unfold can be the biggest payoff of all. 


What’s Next: 


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