The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with a huge sense of loss. Lost time. Lost moments with loved ones. Lost opportunity. However, if we choose to rifle through the debris of 2020, there are certain aspects of life and work that have changed for the better. One of these is how our leaders are communicating.
The fear and frustration we have all felt over the past year is universal. It doesn’t discriminate based on hierarchy or job role. And although we may still look to our leaders for traditional leadership qualities: direction, decisiveness and drive, we now also look for something else. Something human. A moment of connection, empathy, and authenticity. We require our leaders to display a certain level of emotional intelligence, or EQ, in helping us navigate the unknown. And, as internal communicators, we play a vital role in supporting this.
A willingness to show vulnerability
As we struggle through the pandemic, we are starting to recognise leaders who are “confident about tackling the problems we all face yet courageous enough to confront uncomfortable truths and admit what they do not know”. Every one of us is experiencing this situation for the very first time, and there is a sense of comfort in knowing we are all in the same boat, bobbing up and down on the same unfamiliar waters. For this reason, we don’t necessarily need answers. We need understanding. Leaders who are open, honest and take the time to acknowledge challenges as well as successes, earn the respect of employees.
Furthermore, we want to see who leaders are beyond their role. It reminds us that they are human, just like the rest of us. And COVID-19 has presented some prime opportunities for this. Hearing those in positions of authority admit that they are going on mute to tell their children to be quiet or stop to introduce their new puppy on a Teams call, flattens hierarchy and creates a narrative that we are hardwired to relate to. If you need convincing, notice how you feel after watching this video.
Embracing informal methods of communication
The nature of the pandemic has meant two things: firstly, an inflicted separation of the workforce; and secondly (perhaps subsequently), an increased appreciation of internal comms. As a result, there is both a need and an opportunity to rethink traditional methods of communication.
For example, coaching leaders in-person for video briefings, with a professional camera crew and teleprompter, is – currently – a thing of the past. Leaders have had to become more self-reliant and less polished when communicating with the business. Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, tried and tested various ways of keeping in touch with employees and landed on selfie-style videos shot on his iPhone. Holmes swears by this method as a means of bolstering engagement across the company, claiming this “real-time window into the challenges and triumphs of everyone” means that people are now more connected than before.
But authentic leadership is not just about increased visibility. It’s about creating opportunities for employees to engage in a two-way dialogue with leaders, too. Channels such as Workplace and Yammer allow leaders to hear from employees directly, acknowledge concerns and respond to questions. Authentic leadership communication is just as much about listening as it is about sharing.
Establishing authentic leadership comms as the ‘new normal’
As leadership communications evolve, our role as Internal Communicators evolves too. We excel in supporting leaders with briefing, coaching, creating and curating – so they can deliver relatable content that lands with employees. Personally, I delight in seeing leaders embrace a more authentic approach, finding their natural style and using informal channels to deliver their message to the business.
The result? A more engaged workforce. Employees begin to see leaders as more personable. More vulnerable, understanding, approachable, flexible and, ultimately, more human. This can only be a good thing. My hope is that the evolution to more authentic and EQ-focused leadership comms will last well beyond the pandemic – so that it’s not just a response to a need, it’s what we come to expect.
If you’d like to talk to us about your internal communications strategy, please drop us a line at InternalComms@ruderfinn.co.uk. We’d love to hear from you.