Communication – The Fifth C of Leadership

The Inta-Greated Model of LeadershipEvery day leaders influence others by persuading, giving presentations, listening, explaining, and providing feedback – in other words, by Communicating.  The importance of our fifth C, Communication, is further evidenced by the close ties communication has to the other Cs.  For example, leaders need to present the vision to others and persuade them to support the vision in order to be a Catalyst.  Being a good listener and providing quality feedback are also two important communication skills for effective Compassion.  And finally, good communication provides individuals with the knowledge and Courage (our sixth C) to make decisions. Given this realization, it is no wonder James C. Humes, presidential speech writer, remarked that

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” 

Therefore, any individual who wants to be a good leader must invest the time and energy into becoming a good communicator.

Whether dealing with an individual, team, or organization, persuasion is the primary way leaders seek to convince others about the importance of the vision.  For that reason, extensive research has been done around the persuasive process.  In regard to effective persuasion, Conger (1998) begins by making this challenging statement: “If you are like most business people…you use logic, persistence, and personal enthusiasm to get others to buy a good idea.  The reality is that following this process is one surefire way to fail.” (p. 86)  Instead, Conger redefines persuasion as a “learning and negotiating process” (p. 86).  At first, this distinction may seem difficult to accept, but Conger makes a convincing case.

What becomes clear is that Conger (1998) is not saying that data, logic, and passion are bad; rather, they are not enough.  He goes on to outline the four critical steps for persuasion: (1) building credibility in the eyes of one’s audience; (2) framing one’s goals to include the audiences’ values and goals; (3) using vivid language and strong evidence; and (4) establishing an emotional connection with the audience.  It is also important to note, however, that communication is not all about talking – listening is just as – if not more – important. 

Leadership expert Stephen Covey (2004) puts it this way: “The key to…having power and influence with people can be summed up in one sentence: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”   Some effective listening behaviors include: (a) “echoing,” paraphrasing back to the individual what he or she just said as a way to check for understanding; (b) “letting people talk,” fighting one’s tendency to jump into the conversation and possibly cut someone off; and (c) “demonstrating aware listening” by making eye contact with the speaker (Berg, 2012, p. 4).  The importance of listening and persuasion is also reflected in the servant-leader model.

Listening and persuasion are two of Spears’ (2002) ten characteristics of the servant-leader.  Spears describes a good servant-leader as one who “seeks to listen receptively to what is being said (and not said!)” (p. 5).  What makes his discussion of listening unique, however, is his emphasis on the importance of listening to oneself as a personal leadership tool.  “Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one’s own inner voice and seeking to understand what one’s body, spirit, and mind are communicating…it is essential to the growth of the servant-leader” (p. 5).  Also, in regard to persuasion, Spears emphasizes that leaders rely primarily on influence rather than positional authority and threats.  “The servant-leader seeks to convince others, rather than to coerce compliance” (p. 6).

And then, after a leader has taken the time to understand his or her personal composition, put together a team based on strengths, cultivated his or her moral authority, developed an inspiring vision, invested time and effort into the development of those around him or her, persuaded people regarding the importance of the vision and listened to their differing perspectives, he or she has set the stage for courageous action.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Berg, B. L. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (8th ed.) Boston: Pearson Education.
  • Conger, J.A. (1998). The necessary art of persuasion. Harvard Business Review,76(3), 84-95.
  • Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic (6th ed). New York: Free Press
  • Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the past, present, and future of servant-leadership. In L. C. Spears, & M. Lawrence. (Eds.), Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. (pp. 1-16). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.