“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
– Anne Lamott
One of my favourite places in the world is Cape Byron Lighthouse at Byron Bay. I have fond memories of climbing up to the lighthouse with my sisters and cousins on weekends to take in the view over the New South Wales coast, at Australia’s most easterly point. We would even get up early to say we were the first people in Australia to see the sun that day.
My sister had her wedding photos taken at the lighthouse a few years back (yes, that’s me in the middle with the bridal party), so it’s a special place for us all.
The lighthouse itself was first lit on 1st December, 1901. Standing tall, it is 23 metres to the top of the lantern. The lighthouse lens itself measures 2 metres in diameter, weighs 8 tonnes and contains 760 pieces of prismatic glass. The light flashes every 15 seconds and continually revolves, even throughout the day when the light itself is out.
Lighthouses are white for a good reason. It makes them stand out against the backdrop and context of dark rocks and mountains, so sailors can easily see them. The height of a lighthouse takes into account the curvature of the earth, so the higher the light is above MHW (mean high water), the further away it can be seen at sea. But the light should not be so high that local sailors can’t see it. This is why you will frequently get shorter lighthouses on the top of cliffs, and taller lighthouses built closer to the water’s surface.
When I think about leadership, I always think about lighthouses: shining a light, staying visible, giving clarity and direction, providing safety in complex and challenging seas. In fact, the Latin phrase, “Olim periculum-nunc salus,” is carved into the door of the Byron Bay lighthouse. This translates to, “Once perilous, now safe.”
New York Times bestselling author Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, shares his research and work behind building some of the highest-performing teams in the world, from sports teams to technology. He says the foundation of all high performance is trust and psychological safety. From there, as leaders, we must keep the vision clear. To do this, Lencioni says we need to:
- Create a strong leadership team.
- Create clarity.
- Overcommunicate clarity.
- Reinforce clarity.
I think he’s right.
In a world of constant change and disruption, people and teams need leaders who provide that clarity on where they are going and what they’re trying to do.
Leaders must overcommunicate clarity for their team members. This means not just being present face to face, but omnipresent using all channels including social intranet platforms, such as Workplace by Facebook, Microsoft Teams and Yammer.
It sounds so simple, right?
So, why is it that a lack of clarity around vision and a lack of leadership team visibility are issues that rate so highly time and time again in engagement surveys?
After working with leadership teams to improve their strategic communication, visibility and presence over the years, I’ve found most leaders:
- Are dealing with constant change.
- Don’t know how to use internal social platforms.
- Don’t want people to think they’re “all about me.”
What’s really going on is fear and procrastination, which is caused by two common issues:
- Many leaders are afraid to over-communicate.
Leaders often fear that over-communication is redundant, wasteful and inefficient. They may also worry they’ll appear dull or patronising by repeating the same message over and over.
The truth is that no-one has ever left an organisation saying, “That leader just totally overcommunicated.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s not until a leader becomes tired of hearing themselves communicate a message that team members begin to believe and internalise it.
Lencioni says a great measure of whether you’re getting cut-through is when people start to mimic you. So, if you have ever had this happen to you, you’re on the right track!
2. Some leaders haven’t clarified what they need to communicate.
Overcommunication is not about flooding employees with emails, online content, text messages, videos or posters. It’s about getting in front of them as often as possible to remind them what is most important and why they’re there.
To do this, Lencioni says leaders must take the time to answer six critical questions at the heart of organisational clarity:
- Why does the organisation exist?
- How do we behave?
- What do we do?
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important — right now?
- Who must do what?
The answers to these questions form the basis of almost all substantive communication a leader must convey.
More often than not, when leaders aren’t clear, it’s because the executive leadership team isn’t clear. This can result in a huge amount of time, energy and effort wasted, so ensuring the top has clarity is a great place to begin. Every leader needs to be on message and have a communication strategy when driving change and growth.
The best leaders understand they are CROs (Chief Reminding Officers), and that there is no such thing as too much communication.
The best organisations in the world are the ones where leaders constantly reiterate the organisation’s culture, strategy and priorities.
– Patrick Lencioni,
Author, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Strategic communication for leaders is about being the lighthouse. It’s less about being the centre of attention and more about shining a light on the vision and on others.
It’s about less attention in, more attention out.
It’s about being intentional and purposeful with intranet content, in meetings and during presentations, instead of winging it.
It’s less about vanity and more about consistency.
It’s less about persuasion and more about empowerment to guide the next generation of leaders.
How do you, as a leader, keep the vision clear for the choppy seas of change and disruption?
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Jane Anderson is a Strategic Communications expert, speaker and the author of 7 books including the upcoming “Catalyst Content.” With over 20 years of experience helping people to communicate confidently, she is obsessed about creating human connection to drive business growth in a world of disruption and automation. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.