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The transformation of healthcare will require senior leaders who are exceptional operators, strategists and communicators.  Communication has always been an essential element of good leadership, but as we navigate the sweeping changes that lie ahead, effective communication will move from an essential to a critical skill.

Being a good talker and an effective communicator are two dramatically different things.

Leaders who do not grasp the significance of this reality are in for some tough sledding.  What we do and how we do it is in for radical change over the next seven years. 

Given this coming storm, I have been thinking more and more about this subject.  I am more than a little surprised, and concerned, that so many new graduates are being set free in an industry with requisite knowledge about management but their ability to be effective communicators seems to be taken for granted by the graduate faculty.  Or the students didn’t pay attention.

There are several categories of executives who need help in the effective communications department.

  1. I speak well, ergo I am an effective communicator

    A casual jogger, replete with the latest footwear and other accoutrements of a serious runner, is probably not going to win any serious races regardless of how good they may look.  Looking the part — or even talking the talk — will not push them across the finish line ahead of the experienced runners. 

    When President Bill Clinton left office he was one of the most popular presidents in modern American history, including President Reagan.  Why?  Because Mr. Clinton possessed an almost magical ability to connect with voters, particularly those in the middle and lower income segment.  They believed he truly understood their fears, concerns and needs. 

    There are more than a few political operatives who believe that the President’s Democratic Party convention speech in Charlotte was as close to a tour de force as you can have, shy of being the party’s nominee.  Whether you like former President Clinton, or dislike him as many extremist conservatives do, his convention speech was a game changer.  The momentum shifted.  He took his interpretation of the issues and presented them in a way that common Americans could connect with, the complete accuracy of his claims notwithstanding.

    He is an excellent communicator even if his moral compass went haywire.

  2. One and Done Disruptors

    In the communications business, one and done — delivering a directive or an opinion just one time and not understanding why the team isn’t following — is an immutable truth of the trade.  Repetition, repetition repetition is the key.  I find it fascinating that many CEOs and other senior leaders believe they are great communicators, or their brand is framed by those skills, but fall into the “one and done” category on critical issues, all evidence to the contrary, including their own experience with their children.  They announce — once, twice at best — a new focus or initiative and they are surprised and visibly frustrated to the point of raising their voices (read: yelling) when the team does not seem to share the CEO’s intensity in responding.  They may deny yelling but it sounds like it to their team. 

    Ironically, some of these same CEOs suffer from the same affliction.  You can tell them something important — seeking their concurrence in a decision— and in three days when you need an answer, the CEO is frustrated because they do not remember the one time this issue came up. 

    CEOs in this category create disruption in their organizations on several levels — from effective operations to employee satisfaction scores — because they have their own communication style flaws or they do not believe that having a communication strategy is that important.

  3. Sell the ideas

    Giving a good rousing speech does not make someone an effective communicator, or a great leader.  When the echoes have subsided and the crepe paper and balloons are strewn across the empty floor, the important thing is whether the audience is filled with passion, ready to act, and to fight the good fight.  More importantly, do they remember, a month later, why they are doing what they are doing?  Are they still true believers?

    I once worked for a good speaker who was a great communicator.  He was a true seller of ideas, of personal responsibility and accountability.  When all was said and done, with some of the English language mangled on the floor of the meeting room, the employees filed out knowing exactly what they needed to do and, more importantly, why they needed to do it.  These are leaders around which cultures are constructed and the fires of passion and commitment are stoked. 

    This wonderful boss who I respect enormously was not the most polished guy in the world, but his earthy, common language, resonated with his employees.  He was smart — and the employees knew it — and he was committed, and they believed it.

    And he cared so much, and they knew that, too. 

© 2012 John Gregory Self