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Gini Dietrich

The Four I’s of Leadership Communication

By: Gini Dietrich | June 11, 2012 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

80 comments
MimiMeredith
MimiMeredith

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

Latest blog post: On moving...up, over and on

Soulati
Soulati

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

jeremywaite
jeremywaite

@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...

shumbum1210
shumbum1210

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

DanConnors1
DanConnors1

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

JTimothyBagwell
JTimothyBagwell

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.

rdopping
rdopping

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.

 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

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
ginidietrich

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

RmcTech
RmcTech

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. 

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

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.

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

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. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

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!

4uthebest1
4uthebest1

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

beneg92
beneg92

@DanConnors1 Couldn't agree more.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @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.

karlsprague
karlsprague

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

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

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

TheJackB
TheJackB

 @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. 

 

 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

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

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @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! 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @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.

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

@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)

karlsprague
karlsprague

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

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @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.
Erin F.

 @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...

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