The downside of too much or too little leadership communication

I once had a boss who had a visibility problem. He believed he was good at giving orders from a distance, but lacked connection with his teams.

He had good reason for thinking that way. He spent most of his time in his magnificent office, behind two beautifully crafted timber doors. It was easy to admire the workmanship in those portals, because they were usually closed. Not surprisingly (to everyone but him, it seemed), staff gave his office a wide berth.

As the newly-arrived communications manager at the time, I was asked if I could help. At the risk of stating the bleedin' obvious, I suggested that an open-door policy would be a good start.

The response I received was interesting, to say the least. “I tried an open-door policy but it was a disaster. Everyone kept wanting to see me!” he lamented.

It was clear from that conversation the problem wasn’t the closed doors; it was the attitude of the person sitting behind the closed doors. He might have said he wanted better relationships with his teams, but he preferred the distance created by physical and other barriers.

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Great leaders need strong visibility in their business. With all the digital platforms available today, there are many ways to engage with employees across the organisation. But how much communication is too much? Is punching out the occasional blog too little?

I heard a great analogy recently. Imagine you're at a dinner party, seated between two very different guests. On one side you have the reluctant conversationalist; a reticent type who mumbles in monosyllables. It takes all your resolve and enthusiasm to keep the conversation going.

Seated on the other side is the blabber; you know the type, the person so full of how awesome they are they can’t wait to share it with you - including everything they’ve done for the past year.

Which way do you turn at the table? Which neighbour makes it easier to build rapport? An early exit from the table seems the most appealing approach. 

Leaders can fall into the trap of being one of these types of party guest; either reluctant to engage so people feel they have to drag information out of them, or oversharing to the point that it's overwhelming and uncomfortable. Like those fairy tales say, it’s a matter of getting it just right.

Some leaders strike a great balance. Rather than posting continuously in a one-way information barrage through the business communication channels, they mix it up by sometimes posting content and at others asking questions and engaging with those who put forward their views. On other occasions, they show support by simply liking what others post.

It used to be part of the communication team's role to produce content on behalf of the business leader (I’ve done plenty of that myself over the years). These days, those who support leaders give them a far more valuable gift by building the leader's capability to engage in their own right; creating their own posts and conversation initiatives rather than having professional communicators do it for them.

If you're a leader, be visible in the right proportions. Communicating with people in your own authentic voice builds credibility and respect; both vital in this reputation-driven economy.