Communication: The Common Denominator of Leadership? (Part 1)

By Heather Campbell

CommunicationBy David Mason >>

I’ve been taking a walk down memory lane recently and trying to recall some of the leadership models, trends and fads that I’ve come across during my career. And the number of these models/trends/fads either means that I’m getting on more than I realised or that the industry for ‘the latest thing’ has always been in rude health!

Seriously, though… there have been many useful ideas, some interesting ones, and others that were just plain weird.

My reason for thinking about them isn’t driven by nostalgia, but from a desire to try and understand if there’s a common thread that runs through them all. My first manager told me that “leadership is about being nosey – never walk past, always stop and find out what’s going on and why”.  I prefer to think that good leadership is about being inquisitive – but either way I was curious to find out if there really is something that links all of this ‘leadership stuff’ together.

So, let’s start with a list: Belbin Team Roles; Emotional Intelligence; Empowerment; FISH!; Management by Objectives; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; One Minute Management; Covey’s Seven Habits; Six Sigma; Strengths-based Leadership; Theory X (and Y and Z); TQM (Total Quality Management).

And these are just the ones that sprang instantly to my mind – I’m sure you’ll have your own favourites to add.

Now, one of CommsMasters’ operating principles is that we are always authentic – so I’ll level with you. When I first started wondering if there was any commonality between all of these various ideas I did have a potential answer in my mind; so this developed into a case of “can I substantiate my answer?”

And the answer I had in mind was that all of these theories, models and fads are linked by one thing: the need for any leader using them to be a great communicator.

So far, I reckon that my hypothesis is correct. Take Management by Objectives. The critical element here is that ‘management and employees agree to the objectives and understand what they need to do’.  The key words, for me, are ‘agree’ and ‘understand’. Only when we truly listen to understand – as opposed to listening to judge (which most of us do, most of the time) – can we begin to know whether there is real agreement between two parties. Simply hearing someone say “yes” is not enough. What is their body language telling you? What is their tone of voice conveying? What are they not saying?

How about Ouchi’s Theory Z? This puts emphasis on increasing loyalty by focussing on the well-being of the employee, both on and off the job. As line managers, the more we know our team members the more engaged they become, and the more we’ll understand what keeps them in a state of well-being. But we don’t get to know them just by saying “good morning” and “good night” every day, or by only discussing their progress against tasks. We need to have real conversations with them, getting to know them as individuals.

Let’s think about TQM. It’s based on the premise that the quality of products and processes is the responsibility of everyone in the chain – management, workforce, suppliers and customers. Everyone involved with, and dependent on, everyone else – a communication nightmare if ever there was one! And that’s because every single conversation we have either improves or damages the relationship we have with the other person – even if it’s only by a small amount. So, where TQM depends on so many relationships to create its ‘totality’, every member of the chain has to be a good communicator.

And finally, for now, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen Covey’s book, which led to much leadership development activity, reminds us that two people can look at the same thing and yet see something totally different. Don’t forget that we are hard-wired to gravitate to the things that reinforce our beliefs or existing knowledge, rather than actively seeking to disprove them. In order to see things from a different perspective we have to re-evaluate our way of seeing the world, meaning we have to question ourselves. It can make us doubt ourselves and is uncomfortable. To work through this difference constructively depends, once again, on great communication skills.

That’s all for now.  I’ll look at more models, trends and fads next time and explore if and how they share the common thread – communication.

What are your favourite (or least favourite!) leadership models/trends/fads? And do they rely on great communication skills?

We’d love to hear your views. Leave us a comment below or tweet us @CommsMasters.

Image courtesy of bplanet /

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