LEADING A GLOBAL COMPANYAs organizations grow, transparency becomes more challenging, and leaders need well-honed communication skills to navigate these challenges. This is true at all levels of an organization, not just at the top. The best leaders ensure that their teams have the information they need to do their jobs and communicate that information to the right people across their organization with the appropriate level of transparency. Years ago, I worked for FedEx. Transparency is a significant challenge for all large, global organizations, but the company dedicated significant resources to training its leaders and excelled at keeping its employees informed. When I joined, it had never laid off employees. Its package volume declined after the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, however, forcing it to reduce its cost structure and making layoffs an unfortunate necessity. What followed was a case study in how to handle a restructuring. Leaders were up front about what would happen and how they planned to conduct the restructuring. Their transparency, while not perfect, put most employees at ease as they marched through the process. They couldn’t eliminate all the usual rumors and misinformation, but they certainly minimized them, and the company emerged from the downturn stronger because of the effective communication of its leaders.
POWER OF THE GROUPOnce leaders have the trust of the team and have embraced an appropriate level of transparency, they can unite individuals around a central idea and use the power of teamwork to achieve goals that are likely impossible for any individual to accomplish. No successful company could’ve reached its current level of success without leaders who harnessed the power of a cohesive group. To build momentum, leaders must provide direction. Simply barking orders at people minimizes their potential contributions to the larger effort and leaves them feeling like a cog in the machine rather than an essential contributor. Leaders’ mandate is providing clear direction toward a strategic vision and organizational mission without being so prescriptive that individual talents are squashed or underutilized. Experienced leaders understand that they must provide direction by establishing the mission, vision, and goals for their organization. The challenge lies in communicating these directives in ways that inspire employees. The best ideas in the world can fall flat if the communication is muddled or confusing. Even if senior leaders initially communicate very well, their messages can become distorted or lost in translation because of middle managers’ poor communication. How do leaders avoid these issues? They keep their messaging simple and clear, repeating it often until it becomes second nature to everyone on the team. When I worked at Microsoft years ago, the company’s stated mission was to help everyone realize their potential. That oft-repeated mantra appeared in all our internal communications. The simple, clear message became our North Star, a guiding principle that required little thought as we did our jobs. The fact that I remember it so well after almost a decade proves the impact of excellent communication. Effective, transparent communication may not have the appeal of flashier elements of leadership, but it remains the hallmark of a successful leader. Without it, leaders will struggle to build trust with their direct reports, and the team will fail to achieve what was envisioned in strategy meetings. With it, even ambitious team goals become more attainable.