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Communication Coaching for CEOs

by Tracy Benson

One thing is clear about communication in organizations: The more senior you are, the more amplified your message will be. That’s because employees, customers and shareholders know that the farthest-reaching strategies and decisions are made at the highest levels. And it is simply human nature that we are inherently interested in how these strategies and decisions will ultimately affect us. Like it or not, if you are a CEO, COO or CFO, your every word and even your most innocent gestures are under scrutiny. For a recent example, consider that President Barack Obama’s “Latte Salute” garnered over a million results via Google search.

The best leaders understand that engaging people’s hearts and minds – particularly employees – is the only way to compel people to action in favor of the direction they’ve chosen. Though this talent comes naturally to a few gifted CEOs, for most, it requires deliberate, ongoing and focused attention. Communication coaching for senior leaders should center on why, what and how to communicate.

Why should you communicate?

Every communication interaction, whether one-on-one or a speech to a large audience, is an opportunity to create connection, articulate and motivate around a shared purpose and establish alignment. Stay on track even in unpredictable interactions by retaining a clear focus on your objective. This allows for the flexibility that may be needed in delivery.

What do you have to share?

As CEO, you are in a unique position to create a common focus across the enterprise through a message platform that is clear, consistent and concrete. Couple your message with context and examples that are customized for the audience, along with a strong and compelling call to action.

Four tips on how to make it meaningful

  1. Make it personal. Build trust and intimacy by banishing “corporate speak” in favor of your unique voice, language and style.
  2. Make it real. Create, encourage and participate in dynamic conversation. Years ago, leaders focused on “controlling the message”. Now, however, collaboration across divisions, functions and levels has made organizational boundaries far more malleable. In addition, technology-driven communication has produced a democratic communication environment in which key employees are just as powerful message influencers as you are. Engage them constructively to further amplify your message.
  3. Learn and practice the art of storytelling, arguably among the most powerful ways to create a personal connection. Stories provide a bridge between a nebulous concept and relevant, practical application. They also convey volumes about values, culture and expectations, and enable people from disparate parts of the enterprise to relate to one another.
  4. Finally, prepare with the end in mind: What are the two or three specific things you want your audience to know or do as a result of hearing from you?

General Dwight Eisenhower said: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Simply put, that takes ongoing focus, skill and preparation.

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