Leadership Communication
Sohan Tiwade
Sohan Tiwade

Stephen Covey the Management Guru of our times and the author of ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ defined leadership as, “Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it clearly in themselves.” Basically, leadership has a lot to do with communication. When you are a leader and you have a vision for your organization, you have to communicate the same to your people who will team up and work to bring that vision into reality. So, a leader who can communicate in clear terms his vision, people’s worth and potential is surely an effective leader and has an advantage in terms of his role as a leader.

The Brooklyn Bridge in New York is a great example of leadership. In 1883, a creative engineer named John Roebling was inspired by an idea to build a spectacular bridge connecting New York with the Long Island. However, bridge building experts throughout the world thought that this was an impossible feat and told Roebling to forget the idea. It just could not be done. It was not practical. It had never been done before.

Roebling could not ignore the vision he had in his mind of this bridge. He thought about it all the time and he knew deep in his heart that it could be done. He just had to share the dream with someone else. After much discussion and persuasion, he managed to convince his son Washington, an up and coming engineer, that the bridge in fact could be built. Working together for the first time, the father and son developed concepts of how it could be accomplished and how the obstacles could be overcome.

The project started well, but when it was only a few months underway, a tragic accident on the site took the life of John Roebling. Washington was injured and left with a certain amount of brain damage, which resulted in him not being able to walk or talk or even move.

“We told them so.”

“Crazy men and their crazy dreams.” “It`s foolish to chase wild visions.”

Everyone had a negative comment to make and felt that the project should be scrapped since the Roeblings were the only ones who knew how the bridge could be built. In spite of his handicap, Washington was never discouraged and still had a burning desire to complete the bridge and his mind was still as sharp as ever. He tried to inspire and pass on his enthusiasm to some of his friends, but they were too daunted by the task. As he lay on his bed in his hospital room, with the sunlight streaming through the windows, a gentle breeze blew the flimsy white curtains apart and he was able to see the sky and the tops of the trees outside for just a moment.

It seemed that there was a message for him not to give up. Suddenly an idea hit him. All he could do was move one finger and he decided to make the best use of it. By moving this, he slowly developed a code of communication with his wife. He touched his wife’s arm with that finger, indicating to her that he wanted her to call the engineers again. Then he used the same method of tapping her arm to tell the engineers what to do. It seemed foolish but the project was under way again. For 13 years Washington tapped out his instructions with his finger on his wife’s arm, until the bridge was finally completed.

Today the spectacular Brooklyn Bridge stands in all its glory as a tribute to the triumph of one man’s indomitable spirit and his determination not to be defeated by circumstances. That’s a great example of a leader who had a vision and communicated it to his wife and his people despite all the odds and completed the project.

So how does a leadership communicate? What’s the difference between his communication and the communication of the ordinary people? Here are 3 things that I have gleaned from my own learning and experience:

“I see a spark in you.”– A great leader does not see people as they are but what they can be if their potential and talents are utilized and channelled in the right way for the right purpose. So, the first communication of a leader to his people is in the words – “I see a spark in you.” A Leader will encourage people towards self-discovery. Most of the people in the din and bustle of their world have lost their authenticity. They have forgotten that they are special. They are a spark of the God Almighty Himself. We are made in the image of God. We have talents and potential that can lie hidden and get buried with us when we die. A great leader encourages us to discover those talents, those powers hidden in us. He compels us to see ourselves differently. Our surroundings and people around starting from our own families may have never been able to see those special gifts in us. They may have always considered us as one of the run of the mill type. They may have even communicated to us quite the opposite to what the leader sees in us. Many times, they do it with good intentions, but they were themselves unaware. It is because of such experiences that we start feeling that we are not that good. We are average. We are meant to settle for an ordinary life.

A teacher once took his disciple to show him the graveyard where the most famous people were laid to rest. After the tour of the cemetery, the student was confused. He saw that the graveyard was of ordinary people, none of the names displayed on the graves were of any famous people he was aware of. So he questioned his teacher about it and the teacher answered to him, “All these people were meant to be great, they were born to be great but they never realised it and died with their greatness buried in them.” A great leader’s words to his people are – “I see a spark in you.” He doesn’t let us die with our greatness buried in us rather, he will help us see our greatness and help us bring it up to serve the world!

It’s messed up but let’s see how we together can emerge better out of it.” – A leader after having communicated to his people their greatness and given them a vision, will direct them to work for the vision. Many of us will falter along the way, make mistakes, and mess up things. When a leader sees that we have messed up, he/she will tell us, “It’s surely messed up but let’s see how we together can emerge better out of it.” Note, the leader doesn’t say, “You’ve messed up” but, “It’s messed up.” A great leader will never attack you personally. He will just attack the problem. That’s great communication secret of a leader. When as a leader we attack someone personally, the person will lose faith in himself and never be able to give his best. Words that we use towards other can either make them or break them and a great leader is aware of the same. She/he will choose her words carefully when criticizing. Next, he/she will not leave you with the mess. Observe the later part of the communication, ‘How we together can emerge better out of it.’ The leader will take the responsibility of the mistakes of his/her people and give the credit of success to them.

Jim Collins in his book, ‘Good to Great’ talks of the leader who stands before a mirror and sees himself whenever something wrong has happened, he/she takes the responsibility. But whenever something good has happened she will stand before the window, look out to her people and give them the credit for the good that has happened. So, a great leader will not leave their people in the mess but help them with the way out of it. He/she will help to see the lessons that were hidden in the misfortune. She will encourage us to learn from our mess and emerge a better person. I somewhere read about a Nobel Prize winner scientist who attributed his success to the way his mother brought him up. Once, as a small child, he spilled all the milk from the fridge and made a mess of it. His mother saw this but did not shout or scold him. She allowed him to play. Later when he was done with playing, she told him that now she will teach him how to undo the mess. Together they both picked up and cleaned the mess. This incident stayed in the mind of the child as he grew up and he became fearless of experimenting that made him a world-renowned scientist. That’s the way a leader communicates – ‘It’s messed up but let’s see how we together can emerge better out of it.’

“You are now ready to take the responsibility to lead” – The final important leadership communication to people is – “You are now ready to take the responsibility to lead.” A great leader will always concentrate on readying people to take responsibility. He/she believes in sharing his powers and knows that is the best way to work and complete the vision he has for the organization. He doesn’t allow all the powers to be concentrated at one place especially at him. He believes in decentralization of powers and responsibility. He wants everyone to emerge as a leader and take the responsibility for their areas. He has grown leaders out of common people and that makes him a leader of leaders! He has a mentality of abundance not lack.

A person with mentality of lack will say that the pie gets smaller when I share it. An abundance mentality person will say that the pie only gets bigger by sharing. There’s enough in the world for everybody. If someone gets something that does not mean he has taken out of my share. That is the philosophy of abundance mentality and a great leader.

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey created the matrix of situational leadership. They how leadership role graduates slowly from directing people and telling them what to do to coaching and training them, giving them the necessary support and finally giving them the responsibility fully. These are the stages through which a leader and his people graduate – Directing, Coaching, Supporting and finally Delegating. We have to check our leadership styles, have we grown leaders to overtake us. A great leader always has better and competent people to pass on the mantle of leadership to. A bad leader has never allowed leaders to grow and when he leaves the organization, the organization collapses. On the contrary, a great leaders’ organization flourishes all the more when he leaves it for, he has prepared able shoulders to take on the responsibility. It’s like the 4x 100 mts relay race. Every runner will run for 100 mts and then pass on the mantle to another runner who continues for the next 100 mts. The initial runners know that there is an equally able runner ahead to take on the baton and they gladly pass it on to them.

It was Winston Churchill who said, “The difference between mere management and leadership is communication.” Leadership is all about what and how you communicate to your people. We have explored some important aspect of leadership communication here –

“I see a spark in you.”

“It’s messed up but let’s see how we together can emerge better out of it.” “You are now ready to take the responsibility to lead.”

So, let’s communicate empowerment, resilience, and responsibility to our people as leaders!

About the Author:

Sohan Tiwade – Professional Speaker, Corporate Soft Skill Trainer & Asst.Prof. @ Sanjay Ghodawat University

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