What has Leadership Communication Become? Hint: it’s not just for leaders anymore…

By: Bart Egnal

When I started at The Humphrey Group in 2001, I would meet with executives to help them prepare for major speeches. Before we started working on their remarks (which involved a series of interviews, tape recorders and then hours of manual transcription) I’d explain to them that leadership and communication were intrinsically intertwined and that they had an opportunity to not only inform but inspire. At the time, this was novel to the clients we worked with; the idea that you should do more than provide commands and direction and instead move thoughts and hearts was new and exciting. And for a decade The Humphrey Group grew into a global firm by sharing this idea with leaders at all levels and providing training that showed them how to embed leadership communication skills into all their communication. 

Today, some 22 years after I joined The Humphrey Group, some things remain the same about leadership communication but far more are fundamentally different. 

So what’s the same? Leadership communication remains a critical skill to develop. The clients we work with continue to invest time and effort to build their ability to influence and inspire in every interaction. 

Now that that’s done, what’s changed? Well…How long do you have?

Change 1 - Everyone needs to be able to communicate as a leader (even if it’s not in their job description)

In the past, you didn’t need to build your leadership communication skills until you actually were a leader. That’s because only the executive roles were expected to guide, influence and inspire. 

Today the world has changed and you must be an exceptional communicator to shine. Consider this 2022 Zip Recruiter job report that found that communication skills is the number one sought-after skill in job postings.  In our work with clients at The Humphrey Group, we see the same thing, with a greater percentage of our participants every year coming from non-managerial roles. Whether you’re a star salesperson who needs to win over a customer or a private equity deal maker inspiring an owner to sell her business, these skills matter more than ever. 

Change 2 - Rapid increase in cadence of communication. 

When I started working with executives, opportunities were weeks or months out, and few and far between. Executives had ample time to focus and prepare. 

Today the pace of communication, driven by digital and mobile communication channels and tools, has increased how many interactions we have and shrunk our time to prepare. Yesterday I was coaching the head of a not-for-profit. In our session, which went from 9:00 - 10:30, we prepared for the two most important conversations he would have that week. We chose these two from around 30 meetings that were already on his calendar. Another client I coach, a CFO, has only two 90-minute “free time” blocks a week in her calendar; the rest is scheduled for meetings. When combined with email, Slack, and unexpected interactions, this means we are having hundreds of communication interactions a week. The bad news is you have less preparation time, but the good news is you can reach and influence so many more audiences than before. 

Change 3 - A greater focus on authenticity. 

In the past, leaders were expected to deliver the organizational message without question. You either stood with what you were delivering or you quit (or were fired!). You avoided expressing weakness or misgivings, and you didn’t share your own failings. 

Today, there is an expectation from audiences that leaders are open and honest and balance their personal integrity with the company’s needs. In ideal circumstances, this results in a true alignment between what you believe and what the company needs you to do, but more frequently this requires you to invest time to find a place where you can stand with the initiative you’re championing or leading while still speaking from a place of personal honesty. These expectations from audiences place more demands on you as a communicator…but can result in a more satisfying and compelling connection with your organization and audiences.

So though leadership communication has remained a critical skill, who needs to practice it and what that practice looks like continues to evolve. What does the future hold? With the rise of AI, I thought it worthwhile to ask ChatGPT to answer that question. Here’s what it told me:

The future of leadership communication is likely to be shaped by advances in technology and changing societal norms. Leaders will need to be skilled in utilizing various digital platforms, such as social media, video conferencing, and messaging apps, to effectively communicate with their teams and stakeholders across multiple channels. They will also need to be adept at using data analytics and artificial intelligence to better understand their audiences and tailor their messaging accordingly.

So three things are clear: leadership communication will remain a critical skill. Technology will continue to reshape how we develop and practice that skill. And The Humphrey Group will continue to evolve to help you shine.

Want to see how we’re evolving? Click here to learn more: https://www.thehumphreygroup.com/