Gini Dietrich

The Four I’s of Leadership Communication

By: Gini Dietrich | June 11, 2012 | 
91

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 Comments on "The Four I’s of Leadership Communication"

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Nic_Cartwright
4 years 1 month ago

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

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @Nic_Cartwright Maybe we should change the spelling to teiam? Or teaim? Let’s call Webster!

KenMueller
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich  @Nic_Cartwright wow

adamtoporek
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
KenMueller
4 years 1 month ago

 @adamtoporek i was busy walking the dog.  Oh, and don’t bother finishing that book. I read it. I can tell you how it ends: The butler did it. But in collaboration with a team of others.

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @KenMueller  @adamtoporek And with a knife.

adamtoporek
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich  @KenMueller And I thought it was Colonel Mustard this whole time. You really need to put a spoiler alert on these comments Ken

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @adamtoporek  Yay! I’m glad you’re back, too! I agree with approachability, but I think it’s more than that. It’s about listening too…not just being approachable. Which, as you well know, is very, very difficult for a lot of leaders to do.

adamtoporek
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich I’m sorry, what did you say? I wasn’t listening.

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @adamtoporek LMAO!!

KenMueller
4 years 1 month ago
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.… Read more »
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.

KenMueller
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich and yet, all of those are relationships. So we try to scientificize them. Yes, I just invented a word. We really love making simple things more complicated.

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @KenMueller Yeah, well I have a new spelling of team, so you can invent words.

bdorman264
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @bdorman264 If you hire right like Southwest, does that mean your colleagues sing, too??

bdorman264
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich Yeah, we do an American Idol type thing when we bring in new people………

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @bdorman264 You know what? You should video those and use them for content. They’d go viral!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

@TMuellerFFM Thank you!

Erin F.
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.
4 years 1 month ago
 @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.  … Read more »
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
4 years 1 month ago
 @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… Read more »
Erin F.
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.

SociallyGenius
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

 @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. 
 
 

SociallyGenius
4 years 1 month ago

@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.
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
4 years 1 month ago
 @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… Read more »
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @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!

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
4 years 1 month ago

Perfect. That is all. 

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @rustyspeidel Thank you. That is all.

HowieSPM
4 years 1 month ago

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

HowieSPM
4 years 1 month ago

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

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @HowieSPM That only happens at Sky Pulse Media.

jasonkonopinski
4 years 1 month ago

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.
4 years 1 month ago

 @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! 🙂

jasonkonopinski
4 years 1 month ago

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

Erin F.
4 years 1 month ago
 @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… Read more »
HowieSPM
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
4 years 1 month ago

 @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.

KevinVandever
KevinVandever
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @KevinVandever I think venting is useful, but not in a gossiping or complaining way. That stuff drives me nuts. And so does bringing me a problem without a solution. 

KevinVandever
KevinVandever
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich You take all the fun out of the office.

RmcTech
4 years 1 month ago

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. 

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @RmcTech Thanks! I can’t take all of the credit, but I think it’s where things are going.

RmcTech
4 years 1 month ago

 @ginidietrich Totally. That’s where it’s going. Love it. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

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

karlsprague
karlsprague
4 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich I’ve been delayed getting to G&T. I can’t wait!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

@karlsprague oh you wait. It’s a treat.

karlsprague
karlsprague
4 years 1 month ago

@ginidietrich I missed the fact that the cat was DEAD. The pig was too funny. You covered all the bases with this G&T. 🙂

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

@karlsprague That poor cat.

RebeccaTodd
4 years 1 month ago

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
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
4 years 1 month ago

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

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @HowieSPM  @RebeccaTodd What? They aren’t true historical novels??!?

RebeccaTodd
4 years 1 month ago

 @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
rdopping
4 years 1 month ago

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

RebeccaTodd
4 years 1 month ago

 @rdopping It’s the only adjective she uses in the whole book to describe Grey (Yes, it’s that bad!).

rdopping
rdopping
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
RebeccaTodd
4 years 1 month ago

 @rdopping LOVE this: “When your people are not happy, your clients are not happy and your bank account is not happy.”. May tweet it out.

rdopping
rdopping
4 years 1 month ago

 @RebeccaTodd Really? Tweet away. Thanks for the like.

RebeccaTodd
4 years 1 month ago

 @rdopping Boom.

ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @rdopping Have you read the Steve Jobs biography? It’s interesting in that he did everything wrong, from a leadership perspective, yet built the most successful company on the planet. That made me start to realize that the old way of doing things isn’t necessarily the right way of doing things.

JTimothyBagwell
JTimothyBagwell
4 years 1 month ago
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… Read more »
ginidietrich
4 years 1 month ago

 @JTimothyBagwell Yes, that’s what I do…and what I was saying. My point only was that it’s not productive to sit and gossip and complain. 

DanConnors1
DanConnors1
4 years 1 month ago

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

beneg92
beneg92
4 years 1 month ago

@DanConnors1 Couldn’t agree more.

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[…] 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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shumbum1210
shumbum1210
4 years 1 month ago

Intimacy, Interactivity Inclusion and…RT @markwschaefer : The Four I’s of Leadership Communication http://t.co/FpYnzCBq via @ginidietrich

jeremywaite
jeremywaite
4 years 1 month ago

@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…

Soulati
Soulati
4 years 1 month ago

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

4uthebest1
4uthebest1
4 years 1 month ago

@Soulati 😀 U were missed on ur much deserved hiatus, but u looked like u had much fun!

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MimiMeredith
4 years 1 month ago

Gini,
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
4 years 1 month ago

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

MimiMeredith
4 years 1 month ago

 @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!

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

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