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.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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