Gini Dietrich

The Four I’s of Leadership Communication

By: Gini Dietrich | June 11, 2012 | 

I’ll admit it. I read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I had to see what all the fuss was about.

When I finished, I bought myself a copy of the June issue of Harvard Business Review, just so I could read something smart and well written.

And, boy, am I glad I did! Not only has my intelligence returned, but there is a really interesting article in it that discusses the leader of today.

Let’s Back Up for a Second

Last week, I wrote about breaking down organizational silos in order to create a marketing round, or a team that works together in a circle instead of in a hierarchy. It’s the main theme in Marketing in the Round and it’s been debated (mostly on LinkedIn) about whether or not it’s even possible to break down silos.

Which means, of course, I’m drawn to any discussion about the topic and I’m pleased to see when others agree.

Working with clients on this very idea for nearly five years now, I know it’s possible to do it, but it’s not easy work.

HBR says:

One-way, top-down communication between leaders and their employees is no longer useful or even realistic.

No Longer Useful or Realistic

In “Leadership is a Conversation,” authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind discuss how the command and control approach to management has become less and less viable in recent years.

I’d argue it’s because technology is changing so quickly that organizations have to be nimble and flexible enough to react and adapt to new tools and platforms if they want to not only interact in real-time with customers, but also grow.

And, in order to do that, leaders have to communicate in a way that is more dynamic and sophisticated…it has to be a process that becomes a conversation.

The Four I’s

There are four ways to form a single integrated process for communication for leaders. They include:

  1. Intimacy
  2. Interactivity
  3. Inclusion
  4. Intentionality

Intimacy, as you can surmise, is all about getting close to your team. This is less about giving (or taking) orders and more about asking and answering questions. It’s about gaining trust, listening well, and getting personal.

But not personal in a, “Do you want to come over to dinner on Sunday night?” kind of personal. Rather, a really learning what kind of job you’re doing as a leader kind of way.

The CEO of Duke Energy, Jim Rogers, did this by instituting listening sessions. Not only did he invite participants to raise any pressing issues, where he learned things that might have otherwise escaped his attention (a la Undercover Boss), he solicited feedback on his own performance.

Interactivity is about promoting dialogue, which means leaders spend time listening, exchanging comments, and asking questions. They do not do all the talking. They do not issue orders.

Of course, if your organization is accustomed to the command and control approach, it’s going to be a culture change (which is always very, very difficult) to create interactivity. It’s the job of someone on the communications team (either internally or externally) to work with executives on making this change.

You’ll need to find a handful of people who are willing to take the risk and speak their minds. This has to happen in order for the rest of the organization to see it’s safe to have a conversation with leaders without getting in trouble or, worse, fired.

Inclusion means expanding roles inside the organization. Social media is already enabling this to some degree through brand ambassadors, thought leaders, and storytellers.

Of course, a company’s best brand ambassadors are those who work inside. If they don’t feel passionate about the company’s products or services, how can you expect your customers to want to buy from you?

And, while this may make some of you mad because you do this for a living, the best thought leadership comes from deep inside an organization, not from PR firms or consultants who write speeches and white papers for clients.

Empowering employees to create and promote stories that develop brand ambassadors and thought leaders is the best way to include everyone and break down the control and command leadership style.

And last, but certainly not least, comes intentionality, which means you can have open and honest discussion, but there must always be a reason for it.

For instance, one of the things we do at Arment Dietrich is discuss issues only if there is a solution. I’m sure it drives my team batty sometimes, but my favorite question is, “What do you think?”

I never mind the discussion about the issues or challenges someone is having, as long as they’ve thought through some possible solutions. But venting for venting sake does not mean intentionality and it has no place in the organizational conversation.

The article, itself, is 20 pages and I recommend you read it if you work with internal or employee communications. It’s no longer enough to encourage your chief executives to leave their offices and walk the building. Now they have to create organizational discussions that are safe, honest, and transparent.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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91 responses to “The Four I’s of Leadership Communication”

  1. Having been taught at school that there was “no i in team”, I now find out that there it takes 4 I’s to make a good team…..  How the world has changed since I was running round in my shorts, playing conkers and watching the Hair Bear Bunch

  2. adamtoporek says:

    Good to be back… and to beat kmueller62 🙂
    I think of intimacy more as approachability. I know it messes up the 4 “I’s” but it’s really about team members having the comfort level to bring that information from the field to the top quickly and openly.
    I love the idea of intentionality; it is so powerful. We have all lived through meetings for meetings sake and meetings that were basically formalized watercooler gripe sessions. If you don’t focus on outcomes in your problem solving, the other three I’s really don’t matter.
    I’ve got the HBR piece on the list, thanks for the tip — but first I have to finish this book about marketing integration I’m reading… 🙂

  3. KenMueller says:

    It seems to me that we are in a major transition period. During the 20th century we muddied up everything we do by over-complicating things. Theories, tricks, plans, methods, etc, all designed to make us better leaders, marketers, parents, yadda yadda yadda.
    And now, i think…I hope…we’re stepping back and re-simplifying things and getting back to the core of it.
    With social media, we have a lot of buzzwords, and here in this article we have some core ideas that deal with leadership. And yet…it’s all very simple. If you take the common denominator in all of this, it’s: relationships. Being human.
    That’s it. Everything we do, we can do better if focus on being human and developing relationships.
    How did we get so far, and why has it taken us so long to get back to this simple truth? 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @KenMueller It goes back to what we discussed a couple of weeks ago, right? The idea that we have too many choices and now we’re paralyzed. We all have to be good spouses and parents and business leaders and it’s a lot. Make things just a little bit easier for us.

  4. bdorman264 says:

    It didn’t make me mad because I’m still trying to figure out what I do for a living.
    I guess you are saying 50 Shades of Grey didn’t make the must read list like Hunger Games, huh?
    Because I live in a certain corporate culture and deal with many other types through the businesses we insure, it gives me some perspective on the ones who seem to ‘get it’ and are doing in right. We have some inherent challenges in our organization due to territoriality and turf protection but we are getting much better at being inclusive and ‘marketing in the round.’ And that just applies to the production side; the management side is incorporating some of the things you mentioned as well.
    It helps if you make the right hire in the first place and hire for culture a la Southwest Airlines, but you certainly hope your biggest advocates are your employees. 

  5. ginidietrich says:

    @TMuellerFFM Thank you!

  6. Erin F. says:

    My favorite line? “Empowering employees to create and promote stories that develop brand ambassadors and thought leaders is the best way to include everyone and break down the control and command leadership style.” Yes! It’s my favorite line probably because I’ve been obsessing about the concept of story and how to help people/businesses tell their own.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @Erin F. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a few years externally. But how do we get this to happen internally? There is no better brand ambassador than those who work inside the four walls.

      • Erin F. says:

         @ginidietrich I think it starts with the top-level executives. They have to see that sharing the story is important and start sharing that story. They then have to let their employees to become involved with that story and add their own perspective to it. Maybe, in a way, like the oral tradition of storytelling.
        I guess I’m focused more on the internal these days, though. That’s where my heart is – helping businesses to understand that their communications and stories can’t only be external facing. It’s an essential component, but the internal has a huge impact on the external.
        We’re also back to changing culture, which is hard.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @Erin F. Totally agree the executives have to do this, but it’s the job of those charged with internal communications to make sure it happens. For instance, we work with a client who will bring ideas like this to their CEO. Sometimes the VP of communications internally has to be really patient and stay on course until the CEO sees the point. And sometimes he gets it immediately. It’s all about strategically figuring out what makes sense inside the organization….and then bringing the corner office along.

        • Erin F. says:

           @ginidietrich True. I’ve never worked in or for a large corporation, so I sometimes forget about all the different people that are involved with the decision-making process. That point helps me, though. I now have a better idea of who my target audience might be. 🙂 

        • Erin F. says:

           @ginidietrich That being said, my day job isn’t exempt from those problems. We’re dealing with them now. The solutions become interesting when you don’t have a person dedicated to the internal or the external or even a human resources person.

        • ginidietrich says:

           @Erin F. No business is exempt from them. I consider myself a pretty good communicator and a fairly good leader. But it’s hard for even me to sometimes hear the brutal truth. It’s hard not to take it personally.

        • RebeccaTodd says:

           @ginidietrich  @Erin F. I really have to find my source for this, but there are four stages to cultural change according to one model, but I can only recall three. 1) change in practice 2) forget 3) change in results 4) change in belief. As much as we would like to think we can motivate people to change their belief from the outset, usually people require proof that the new way works before they will hop on board. Add to this the three elements needed for any professional learning team (trust, trust and trust) and it can seem quite insurmountable. While this is based on an educational study around the effectiveness of teachers, I believe we can draw a similar parallel for the work place- that the most effective agent of change is the leader. I am taking my coffee and reading this whole HBR article now, then will share it with my boss. Excellent discussion on this post! 

        • Erin F. says:

           @RebeccaTodd  @ginidietrich When I first started formulating what I wanted Write Right to accomplish, I quickly realized that I would be overwhelmed if I tried to change a person’s mindset or belief system. I have to start with encouraging a change in practice, which will lead to the forgotten step (heehee) and to a change in results. When a person sees those things for himself or herself, the change in belief will be that person’s choice, not something I or someone else dictated.

  7. Many of today’s “leaders” are afraid to empower their followers and bring inclusion to the table. That’s why we’re seeing a steep drop in quality leadership across the board. You’re right, it’s time for execs to step up the level of interaction to foster a unified organization. In other news… Big day for spin sucks as you’ve finally vanquished Facebook as the #1 site on my mobile browser. Congrats!

    • TheJackB says:

       @SociallyGenius I don’t know that this is new. I hate to sound negative but my experience during the 20 some odd years in the workplace is that bad leadership is rampant.
      That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been good leaders but there has been a definite lack because of problems with inclusion and interactivity. 

      • @TheJackB True on both accounts. While I didn’t necessarily think it was a new epidemic, your point about the last 20yrs is a bit troubling – what are we doing to change that… Or how are we going to develop future leaders (sigh)

        • Erin F. says:

           @SociallyGenius  @TheJackB I’ve always been a fan of the one person or one business at a time idea. It’s too overwhelming to think about changing an entire culture.

      • HowieSPM says:

         @TheJackB  @SociallyGenius often there tends to be the same challenges in business repackaged by some folks with new jargon. I came down on the term social business today because business has always been social and always challenged with intraorganizational communication for various reasons. Jack you are correct this isn’t new.
        This kind of goes to human nature. A healthy organization has managers unafraid to groom people they know will replace them. But how many managers will actually sabotage and let those folks go or keep them down?
        Same goes for communication. I have worked places that shared everything. And they thrived. I worked at another it was the opposite and the company struggled. Company A had really strong leadership and managers. company B had crappy leadership and managers.

    • ginidietrich says:

       @SociallyGenius How did we do that?!? That’s a HUGE day! I think I’ll go comment on a photo of yours in Instagram to say thanks!

  8. rustyspeidel says:

    Perfect. That is all. 

  9. HowieSPM says:

    Hmmm so this doesn’t start with the CEO ordering everyone to behave this? You just upset a lot of Social Business Agencies.

  10. HowieSPM says:

    Hmmm so this doesn’t start with the CEO ordering everyone to behave this way? You just upset a lot of Social Business Agencies.

  11. You know what? People think the big honkin’ organizations are the most silo’d and closed to open lines of communication, but I gotta tell you that startups are perhaps even worse. A “focus group of one” just isn’t sustainable. I’ve had to suffer through one of those before in the not-too-distant past. 

    • Erin F. says:

       @jasonkonopinski Sad but true. I’ve had my own share of interacting with startups in the not too distant past. I’m also relying on you to keep me in check with my startup. Don’t let me become silo’d! 🙂

      •  @Erin F. I can understand how it happens, though. Founders have a vision and want to see that carried through.  

        • Erin F. says:

           @jasonkonopinski Maybe I’ve just gotten used to having to change my vision or to find new ways to achieve it. Running into walls does that to a person. I hope I never become so blind to what I need to be doing that I blindly continue with what I’m currently doing. 
          Perhaps founders need to be reminded that their vision won’t become a reality if they don’t learn to work and to communicate with others. It’s like preschool. You have to teach kids to share and to work toward a common goal, not that I would recommend making that comparison to a founder’s face…

        • HowieSPM says:

           @Erin F.  @jasonkonopinski Jason I am still waiting for you to respond to the sticky note I left on your computer screen from friday. I am one cubicle away and you ignore me.

        • Erin F. says:

           @HowieSPM  @jasonkonopinski It’s okay, Howie. Jason told me he was going to apologize to you and bring some bacon as a peace offering. 

        • ginidietrich says:

           @jasonkonopinski  @Erin F. And not just a vision, but you’re so focused on delivering for the customer and growing your business, that you forget not everyone is in your head. Heck, they’re not even in the same meetings. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @jasonkonopinski I just said that in the interview we did with Michele Price. It’s so true. Small businesses are very indicative of the lonely silo, while larger organizations typically have functional silos.

  12. KevinVandever says:

    Great stuff, Gini. I do think that venting for venting sake is sometimes appropriate. It’s the response to that venting that is key. Sometimes people just want to be heard and the listening that leadership engages may need to include some venting. However, the follow up is vital. The venting can’t be the end, it is a way to clear the air and create room for possible solutions. I agree that asking “what do you think?” and challenging folks with coming up with solutions, not just complaints, is the way to get through the real issues, but venting may have to take place at some point and leaders should be ready for that and know how to handle it.
    Oh, and I’ll need a second opinion on that whole intelligence returning claim…just to be safe.

  13. RmcTech says:

    It’s nice to see a more psychology (and tech) conscious approach to management first of all, and social media as well. Loved the detailed-ness of this one Gini. 

  14. ginidietrich says:

    @karlsprague Did you see the cat helicopter in Gin and Topics??

  15. RebeccaTodd says:

    I am trying to finish this post, but seriously Gini, you made it through the whole trilogy? Ugh. I couldn’t even finish book one.  Besides being boring and unrealistic (21 year old virgins? Really?), the writing was terrible! My inner goddess wanted to punch hers in the face with a thesaurus. But I’m pretty mercurial. 

    • ginidietrich says:

       @RebeccaTodd LMAO!!! I did the same thing. I was reading it while in New Orleans with some girlfriends and I kept putting it down and saying, “REALLY?” My friend Abbie said, “Keep going.” So I did. And I swore I wasn’t going to read the second book. But then the first one ended the way it did and Abbie told me what happens in the second so I read it. Then I was committed. I can’t ever not finish a book. It’s really bad.
      Laters, baby.

      • HowieSPM says:

         @ginidietrich  @RebeccaTodd since Gini read and believed the Harry Potter books as true historical novels….this makes sense now.

      • RebeccaTodd says:

         @ginidietrich I just laughed so hard I disturbed the office. Yes, I always finish books.  The last one I couldn’t force myself to digest was The Corrections (ugh!). I tried again last night and was instantly annoyed.  Downloaded this full HBR article for today- thanks for pointing it out! 

    • rdopping says:

       @RebeccaTodd flippin’ hilarity! Aren’t most women (he asks ducking)?

  16. rdopping says:

    So, Gini, this is a topic that is near and dear! Leadership and management. Boy, oh, boy! Let me ask you, do you think the electronic tools of today are essential in creating conversation or do you think that managers and leaders are starting to see the benefits of open lines of communication in general?
    I will give that article a read.
    I totally agree with you that those 4 words epitomize what is right when a team is functioning well and firing on all cylinders. The fact that the leadership of an organization recognizes and breeds autonomy is really the key to a healthy environment and the four I’s are, to me, the catalyst to get the team there. The “leader” is another member of the team with a role to fill, a part to play and the top down approach does not build confidence that the roles of the team are as critical as the leadership role. Top down is as dead as the data driven project management techniques of the near, near past.
    People make it or break it and people are most organizations most valuable assets whether they realize it or not. When your people are not happy, your clients are not happy and your bank account is not happy. Sad, really.

  17. JTimothyBagwell says:

    Gini, thanks for an excellent summary. I might summarize the summary as follows: leadership IS communication. I have a slightly different take on the intentionality part and the business about discussing issues only if there is a solution or only if someone has thought of a possible solution. My worry is that these criteria, especially in a corporate culture ready to snap back into hierarchical rigidity, can stifle discussion. Another word for intentional in the sense you are talking about is purposeful. Venting can be purposeful if it identifies a problem, promotes trust and candor, relieves tension, gets things out into the open, etc. Also, sometimes problems have to be explored before solutions begin to suggest themselves. Instead of requiring possible solutions right off the bat, maybe we should ask that people be prepared to explain what positive values or principles or goals the problem they are venting about affects and to explore with the team what solutions might look like or where thy might come from. This is not all that different from what you are saying, but for some members of the team it might be a little less intimidating.

  18. DanConnors1 says:

    @beneg92 i love thebest “What do you think” question too. Gives others a voice and feeling of inclusion and purpose.

  19. […] Leaders should follow up closely with the new employee ensuring a solid foundation and direction, along with feedback. For the potential high performer, this period of close monitoring should be short. Give them assignments, schedule follow-ups, and provide detailed feedback as quickly as possible. […]

  20. […] The Four I’s of Leadership Communication ( […]

  21. shumbum1210 says:

    Intimacy, Interactivity Inclusion and…RT @markwschaefer : The Four I’s of Leadership Communication via @ginidietrich

  22. jeremywaite says:

    @markwschaefer I’m writing a social leadership book at the moment, “Follow Me, I’m Right Behind You”. Must chat to you about it M…

  23. Soulati says:

    @4uthebest1 So nice of you to RT the RTs! Thanks!

  24. […] The Four I’s of Leadership Communication ( […]

  25. […] The Four I’s of Leadership Communication ( […]

  26. […] The Four I’s of Leadership Communication ( […]

  27. MimiMeredith says:

    I’m about to share this with the VP of Operations in my new workplace. It probably isn’t a huge surprise to you that I love the idea of two-way, intentional and transparent communication practices. Hope all is well with you!M

    • ginidietrich says:

       @MimiMeredith Hey almost birthday girl! How are you? I want to hear about your new job and the new house and everything!

      • MimiMeredith says:

         @ginidietrich Come see me or meet me in Kansas CIty! I’ll tell you all about it ;)! I will write soon. I’m a bit frantic right now…doing all those “new” things at once has been distracting!

  28. […] The Four I’s of Leadership Communication ( […]

  29. […] creation, and the ongoing migration of offline to online, the terms “thought leader” and “thought leadership” are close to being […]

  30. […] Leaders should follow up closely with the new employee ensuring a solid foundation and direction, along with feedback. For the potential high performer, this period of close monitoring should be short. Give them assignments, schedule follow-ups, and provide detailed feedback as quickly as possible. […]

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