7 Leadership Communication Principles of Successful Startups

Matt Preuss
Marketing Manager

What does Leadership Communication really mean?

Communication is critical for success in any organization. More important than just blanket, inter-organizational, and peer-to-peer communication is leadership communication. Top-down communication from the executives within a company can make or break an organization.

One of the most defining characteristics of a great leader is their communication. In today’s digital-heavy world, strong leadership communication must span multiple channels that are rapidly changing and expanding. Mastering leadership communication, across all viable channels, is critical for the success of your team and your business, especially as a new startup.

At the core, leadership communication is a philosophy, a vision that leaders should use as a compass that guides their entire leadership style. But what does that really mean? Leadership communication is really any verbal or non-verbal message that a person in authority at your company shares with the team or representing the organization.

Leadership communication spans both internal communications as well as external. Additionally, leadership communication is way beyond the verbal. The non-verbal signals from a leader can be almost more impactful than the verbal. In a breakdown from Psychology Today, non-verbal body language contributed to 55% of the total interpretation of interpersonal communication. Additionally, 38% was attributed to voice and tone leaving only 7% to the words actually spoken – meaning for leaders especially, it’s less about what you say but rather how you deliver that message.

Another element of the non-verbal part of communication that can make or break a leader’s communication is listening. How a leader reacts to and adapts their communication after listening to feedback or ideas from their team plays into how their communication messages are delivered. An active listener, meaning someone who is genuinely engaged while hearing what another has to say, and someone who adjusts their message based on listening to feedback or shares their openness to new ideas with their tone and body language is going to exude stronger leadership skills than someone who is closed off and doesn’t’ truly listen to their team.

Leadership communication is truly a philosophy that each leader develops because it guides the way that they are viewed by those in their organization and the way that their companies’ messaging and growth evolves. For startups, understanding what good leadership communication can look like and do from your business from the very beginning is crucial.

Why Leadership Communication is so important in 2021

There are a lot of indicators that 2021 will be a much better year collectively than 2020, but many of the changes to work-life and organizational operation and communication that occurred in 2020 are still very much prevalent in 2021 and here to stay. Many organizations and leaders have completely reorganized the way they do work and the way they communicate all across their organization.

The Remote Work Shift

While remote work has been fairly common in the software industry, for many organizations remote work was unheard of prior to the pandemic. However, more organizations than ever are embracing it. First out of necessity, but now many organizations are offering at least some option of work from home or remote-first work options to employers indefinitely. It is now more common to hear of employees starting new jobs totally remote, working 9+ months in a new role without ever meeting any co-workers or managers in person. This shift to remote-first work is not going away. While offices will reopen and some companies will op to go back into their spaces in-person at least part of the time, large tech leaders like Slack building a virtual office or Twitter allowing employees to work from home forever are paving the way for a continued digital-first future of work. For startups founded in 2020 and 2021 so far, more than likely you have been completely remote from inception to launch.

There are benefits of the shift to remote work, especially for startups. Big savings on rental costs for office space are a big plus. Additionally, startups’ access to top talent isn’t geographically limited with a remote-first approach. However, with everything being remote-first in a startup environment where everything is so new and evolving so fast, effective leadership communication is harder than ever yet more important for startups to make it into the 5% success rate.

Communication Channels and Asynchronous Work

In 2021, many companies have been founded completely remote or now possess a large portion of their workforce only familiar with a digital experience of their company values, culture, peers, and leaders. That being said, leadership communication channels are more important than ever. With a spread-out, sometimes global workforce. Most work in startups is happening asynchronously now. That means that your important leadership message may not reach everyone at the same time.

Choosing to utilize different communication channels for different types of communication is key for leaders to successfully execute positive leadership communication. Three common communication channels: Zoom, Slack, and email. Knowing how to best leverage these primary channels to reach out to your employees across multiple time zones or working different schedules is critical. Reserving company-wide announcements for Zoom all-hands calls or company-wide emails can get specific messages across clearer than quick notes in Slack. Knowing when and where to say what is key. Without the ability to turn to the person next to you, raise hands and ask a question real-time, or schedule a meeting in-person with management after big news is shared – leaders need to take into account the why behind the messages they are delivering and think through all the outcomes of their delivery.

Focusing on clear messaging and leveraging the right channels to make it most effective is crucial. Setting up the right channels for feedback and response is also important so that as leadership communications go out, every employee has an easy and equitable way to respond and react.

How to Improve Leadership Communication in 2021

Knowing leadership communication is more important than ever in 2021. It’s critical for overall organizational alignment. There are a few quick ways you can improve your startup’s leadership communication right away.

Channel Selection

Standardize the way your entire organization is communicating. It may seem like overkill, but starting with clear guidelines and purpose for each communication channel in your org is critical to keep good leadership communication (and general communication) going as you scale. Do an internal audit of your current communication tools. If there are duplicates in your stack, work with managers to figure out what the critical channels are. From there, identify and document the purpose of each channel. For example, slack for quick questions and timely updates or real-time conversations, email for big announcements or questions that take more than 5 minutes to formulate a response, and zoom for company-wide news, team brainstorming, and feedback on new ideas. A

Additionally, it can be helpful to document best practices for each channel such as threads in slack or the use of team-wide email aliases, and share this documentation as part of your onboarding process, standardizing communication expectations at all levels from day-1.

Team-Wide Learning

While standardizing the communication channels and best practices are critical boundaries to set, your team members will still all fundamentally have different communication styles and practices. Investing in a self-assessment like the Predictive Index test can be helpful in understanding how each team member prefers to give and receive feedback, their ideal work style, and more. Vowing to invest in this type of learning as a leader and then encouraging managers to adjust their leadership communication style to what best fits their team members’ strengths can be a great way to improve not only leadership communication but general company communication as well.

Ask for Feedback

As simple as this sounds, it’s rare that organizations are asking for feedback as often as they could. Depending on the size and culture of your company, hosting a forum on the company and specifically leadership communication either within a team meeting or through anonymous surveys can be a great first step in improving leadership communication. Knowing what specifically your employees like and dislike about the way they are currently being communicated to is a great first step to point the needle in the right direction.

7 Principles for Effective Leadership Communication

While there is a lot that can be done tactically for leaders to improve their leadership communication, at the end of the day effective leadership communication is a constant, ever-evolving idea. Focusing on a few guiding principles to use as the process and idea of leadership communication evolves for you and your organization is a great way to ground your leadership communication in a fundamental philosophy and vision. We’ve put together 10 principles we believe can help guide effective leadership communication.

Be Authentic

Fakeness is easy to spot. Being your true, authentic self as a leader will make your communication better overall. Sharing moments that are tough for you or moments of pure joy for the company with the entire company are easy ways to showcase your authentic self, building more trust in you across your team. Knowing that your investment in the startup is human and has variety will allow your team to fully buy into the vision and bring their full selves to work every day, improving culture, communication, and teamwork.

Get Out of Your Silo

It’s easy to stay heads-down in your own company and executive team. Get out of the silo of your own org and learn from others. Spending time with fellow startup founders or reading about various leadership and communication styles are easy ways to continuously assess and evolve your own leadership communication based on industry best practices or other successful organizations and leaders.

Consider the Timing

Timing is everything. Considering the timing of each and every message or communication you share with your team (or externally representing your company) is critical. A poorly timed announcement or press release can make or break the success of a big announcement or confuse the team internally. Taking timing into consideration even for the seeming simplest messages is a big game-changer for leadership communication.

Think about Equality and Equity

Along with timing, understanding if your leadership communication is both equal and equitable is important. If the timing or format of your communication is more accessible for certain groups of your company, rethink how you can change your channel or delivery to better reach all folks equally and when all have a fair opportunity to digest and respond. Beyond timing, equality and equity can come in with communication channel and what’s most accessible to different roles in your company, as well as expectations for response as some folks may have outside priorities like parenting that keep them to strict workloads and deadlines.

Stop and Listen

Even if you feel as though you’ve mastered the art of leadership communication, always take time to stop and listen. Ask for feedback, get a pulse on what your company is feeling about your leadership communication style. Pause and give yourself time to digest feedback or company talk and learn from there.

Take Communication Seriously

If your company is doing well, it can be easy to get rather lax in your communication style or forget why good leadership communication is so important. However, it’s critical to always take communication seriously as a leader. When a crisis or big change does arise, you’ll be ready to communicate about it effectively if you consistently take your leadership communication seriously.

Invest in Yourself

Don’t forget that as a leader, you cannot effectively communicate and make positive decisions for your team if you aren’t investing in and taking care of yourself outside of the 9-5. Sleep is a simple, yet critical part of self-care that is often the first to be neglected by leaders, even though it’s proven to make you a better one. Setting boundaries for yourself and taking breaks will allow you to come back into your work with a clearer head and guide you to make the best possible decisions and communication possible.

Poor Leadership Communication Can Hurt

It’s absolutely crucial to master strong, positive leadership communication because poor leadership communication can be detrimental to your organization. According to Forbes, poor communication can affect businesses by derailing focus, misaligning the team on the true purpose of the org, prompt a lack of motivation and inspiration, and dropping overall company morale. For leaders specifically, poor leadership communication can diminish credibility. Implementing our practical actions, as well as the 7 guiding principles for leadership communication, are great steps to implementing excellent leadership communication at your startup from day 1.

Visible for Leadership Communication

Interested in learning more about how Visible can improve your team’s communication around updates and tracking? Check out how we can support your startup as your investor relationship hub.

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