From the Comms Cupboard

Do you have an authentic, visible leader?

Do you have an authentic, visible leader?
John and Shaun ruminate from their comms cupboard on the balance leaders have to strike in order to be visible and authentic.

What different forms of communication are available for leaders to tap into, and how might they use them to be a more visible leader to their employees? Transparency, free breakfasts and Star Wars may come into it.

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Episode transcript

Shaun: So, I thought this episode was about being a risible leader, which nobody really wants, but it’s actually about being a visible leader. How does one become a more visible leader? What is a visible leader? Is it someone who’s not transparent? 😄

John: Someone you can see! 😆

Shaun: It’s ironic really, because isn’t a visible leader someone who is transparent? More transparent about their message, and the business journey they want people to go on.

John: It absolutely is.

Shaun: What an irony!

John: This is one of the big things that comes up in employee surveys every single time: leader visibility. It’s something that bothers people, and they really want to see this person, or these people, more.

Shaun: Are we saying there are reasons why a leader hides away? It’s not natural to them, perhaps.

John: Yeah, I think it’s a non-natural thing. I don’t think it’s intentionally trying to be invisible. They just have lots of other things they’re doing as well. It’s part of their job, but maybe it doesn’t come naturally to them.

Shaun: We’re giving credit to good leaders here, aren’t we. I read something recently that was quite good, and it said: “During the good times, an organisation can get away with having weak leadership. During a crisis, weak leaders can’t hide.” The world isn’t run on good leaders. It’s run on a balance they bring – good and bad leaders bring balance to the Force ️ We’ve been watching Star Wars during Coronavirus.

John: Too much Star Wars.

Shaun: And if you have too many people in leadership positions, that visibility – or that message – can become convoluted, can’t it?

John: They can become watered down.

Shaun: How do you stop that?

John: It’s about having a plan. It all comes back to planning. Is there such a thing as too much communication; being too communicative; not being joined-up enough?

Shaun: Do you mean over communication isn’t a good thing?

John: I guess so. If we’ve got good leaders or visible leaders, they’ll be doing something that’s naturally for them – something that fits their personality. So if you are naturally introverted as a leader, you’re not necessarily going to want to be on a stage in front of a big group of people, and I think people would sense that as well. Then you’re automatically labelled as as invisible leader; not someone who likes to be there.

Shaun: But “the stage” can be many different things, can’t it?

John: It can.

Shaun: I don’t like standing up in front of people, but I like being behind a microphone. But I also understand the different ways you can communicate. A good introverted leader has to understand the different ways of getting a message across without having to ‘platform’ or be in front of that mic or on that podium. And that’s all the different kinds of communication channels at your disposal.

John: If you’re naturally someone who doesn’t want to be in front of the camera or in front of a large group of people, then maybe social media is for you.

Shaun: Or maybe social interaction as well. I have, on more than one occasion, had reason to share anecdotes about really bad leaders and bad bosses, but there have also been some really good ones in my life as well. I know people scoff at these sorts of things, but we had a boss who used to randomly rotate taking people for breakfast. It would be three people picked at random from different departments, and he would take them out for breakfast. To me, it did two things: One, it broke down that barrier of, I can’t speak to the boss, but here we are and he’s taken me out for breakfast; Two, I got to meet two other people from different departments I might never have met.

John: And three, you got a free breakfast.

Shaun: Pancakes, actually 🥞 I remember it well.

John: A very good breakfast! So is informality the important part?

Shaun: I think it’s a part. Being a visible leader is about not being so self-important that you think everyone … You’re only as good as the people in your organisation, so if you have self-importance about your leadership, I don’t think that does any good. I think it makes you an invisible leader, or people perceive you to be untouchable or unapproachable.

John: So another part of that is about being authentic. So if a leader does have that self-importance, something quite formal might fit that personality. Standing up and giving a speech, or writing a letter, that might fit your style and people might think you’re authentic in doing that. But if you prefer smaller groups, are friendly and outgoing, and openly talk to people, that might feel authentic. To take you out for breakfast.

Shaun: Is it important for the visibility of a leader then, if they’re being authentic or not? Is it about how you’re perceived?

John: I think the whole thing is about perception. Isn’t that visibility? You might be doing a great job of running a company: bringing lots of money in and delivering everything you’re meant to be doing …

Shaun: But if no one knows you’re doing it … What’s their impression of the boss? Well, he’s never here. He’s always in his office and locks his door.

John: Are they happy because they get their bonus? They’ve still got their job. It’s a balance, isn’t it?

Shaun: It is a balance, and the leader needs to know what that balance is and then strike it.

John: That’s true. So how can you be a visible leader if you’re all working from a distance? Does it make your job easier or harder?

Shaun: I personally think it makes your job easier, because I think it gets you out of your comfort zone. And I think anyone who steps out of their comfort zone will suddenly find a world of new options and a world of new ways of doing things. And I think every leader should challenge themselves – I think everyone should challenge themselves, but leaders in particular, to become more visible. Even outside of this Coronavirus thing, you have people in different countries – you have to be visible for them too. I think part of that is understanding all the different tools you can use. Not just communication tools like conferencing things, but being seen. If you’re a writer, then blog and let your employees see that you’re a thought leader: “Wow, my boss is quite important. He writes about these things.” Take that selfie at the event you go to with Bill Gates, so your employees can see: “Wow, there’s our boss and he’s with Bill Gates!” I think that visibility is just as important as communicating with your employees. What do you think?

John: I agree. The thing that jumps into my mind is that it comes back to being authentic. Do you think people know when a leader’s being told to do something as opposed to it being natural? So having that selfie with someone at a conference, or blogging themselves, or creating a little video diary that’s very polished and edited, does that create the wrong impression? Do you think that some of the best visibility is when something’s quick and natural; that’s almost quick and dirty, that’s off-the-cuff as opposed to planned, edited and pristine in the vision of a perfect leader.

Shaun: I agree. We need more quick and dirty videos of Bill Gates.


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