How Leaders Communicate

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A key role of leadership work is adapting the present to the rapidly evolving future world.

Change is hard to pull off. People resist losses and change often involves perceived or real losses. Change is disruptive to equilibrium and people can cope only with so much disturbance at any one time. Change challenges the status quo of power, position, wealth, status and tradition and is therefore politically risky.

Leading change involves imagining and articulating an alternative and realisable future. As Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. As I said earlier about ethos, leaders must align themselves and their vision with the core values of the group. Leaders’ efforts to impose their own values are fraught with risk. As the 19th Century French activist, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin is purported to say: “There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

Leaders speak the ‘language of leadership’ to persuade and influence people. Talk with ethos, pathos and logos. Create metaphors. Tell stories. Build group identity. Model the behaviours you seek in others.

Leaders leverage networks to get things done. Change begins when leaders empower and harness the work of the group towards crafting the vision. Leverage then extends to wider circles of the authorising environment and stakeholders.

Change agents, John P Kotter of Harvard Business School and Dan Cohen, in their book, The heart of change, report the findings of an international survey by Deloitte of 200 people in over 90 countries, including Australia. They discover that people change behaviour more by seeing and feeling than by analysing and thinking. In other words, seeing the need for change through observation or story and feeling a response has more impact on people than analysing and thinking as a trigger for changing behaviours.

Reading Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky is highly recommended.