Thursday, October 16, 2008

To work with the leaders, be seen as a leader

It's easy for internal communicators - however senior we are - to tag along for the ride as second class citizens in leading our organisations. In too many, we're valued for our skill in turning the ideas of others into neat communication packages.

While the going's good, it's easy to breeze along and pick up communication awards without really trying. Yet the best communicators will come into their own now, not for their ability to craft clever messages, but by being an essential part of the leadership team, prompting, challenging and directing to help steer the organisation through to safer waters.

This week's Melcrum Source newsletter points to some of the characteristics communicators need to show if they're to be valued rather than tolerated at Board level. They're all good, and I don't question any of the points Geri Rhoades puts forward.

She opines:

  • Be courageous.
  • Be curious.
  • Point out the possibilities.
  • Be knowledgeable.
  • Listen.

I'd add a few more:

  • Be challenging - no-one in your organisation will know more about internal/organisational communication than you. Show your expertise (as long as you can justify it.). Challenge the status quo and be an effective contributor to business debates, not a scribe or a doormat.
  • Be a leader - run your own team in an exemplary way and take that leadership into the boardroom. Even if you don't have board status, act as though you do (without being arrogant). Demonstrate you've a right to be there by virtue of your skills and input - and of course back them with excellent execution. Act as an equal among function managers - they may have more resource, but are no more expert than you.
  • Be different - most boardrooms are stuffed with lawyers and accountants who 'get' the balance sheets and operate by them. Then there'll be HR people who understand the policies and the impacts...but perhaps aren't the most creative tools in the box. Sales will be figures-led, and marketing will be interested only in customer impact. Comms, in whatever form comes from a different angle. You absolutely need to know what makes the business tick and what drives its success, but you'll be best placed to talk about what drives those within the business. The tools of communication are merely a start point now. You need to have a very high level of political business knowledge and awareness of the impact of each of the drivers. But you'll earn more than grudging respect if you have mastery of what engages people to deliver those drivers.

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