Why leaders’ language matters during Covid

With so many still working remotely, the need for effective communication from those in charge is critical, says Jenny Perkins

Throughout the pandemic, leaders have found themselves in positions they simply were not prepared for, managing teams through an evolving obstacle course of both professional and personal challenges. The way leaders communicate with teams and the words they choose are vital.

As we become more reliant on technology, personal communication has become increasingly important. What can leaders do to ensure they are engaging others in an age of remote working? 

Believe it. What are your key messages? Do you believe in them? If you and your leadership colleagues don’t believe in what you’re saying, nothing else will work, and it’s better not to start. Discuss your goals in depth and commit as a leadership team to embark on the journey. Support learning across all levels of your organisation. Demonstrate your own commitment and desire to learn too. 

Be authentic. Speak from the heart. Think about your audience. How will what you’re saying land with them? Is the forum for communication the right one? Test your messages and your style of delivery on trusted advisers first and don’t risk ‘shooting from the hip’ or letting your passion get in the way of a heartfelt message. The more strongly you feel about something, the more you need to prepare so that you transmit that passion in a controlled way.

Paint a picture. Illustrate what the future will look like. Every organisation is experiencing change. Help people to understand how you are evolving. What’s different, what’s remaining the same, what’s valuable?

Choose your words. Use language that feels real and authentic, not hypothetical or full of buzzwords. This will help to form a stronger bond of trust and create a safe space for people to open up. The more people trust you and want to follow you, the more diligent they will be, especially in our virtual world.

What’s your question? At the start of any meeting or call, prepare two or three questions to get a conversation going. Avoid the typical ‘how are you?’ and consider reframing it to ‘how is today going?’ Develop questions that might spark conversation, giving people the space to open up and talk about themselves in a different context. This will give you an insight into how they might be feeling and coping at home. 

Take a breath. Think about what you’re going to say and consider who you’re saying it to. What situation might the people you’re addressing be in? Think before you speak – especially if it’s an emotive or potentially confrontational subject. 

Empower others. In an age of agile working, research by Cirrus and Alliance Manchester Business School has found that it is empowering leadership, in particular, that promotes agile teams. So as a leader you can encourage others to take responsibility for also delivering key messages by using accessible language that promotes buy-in and encourages others to take ownership. 

Be persistent. Persistence is vital as it takes time and repetition to make changes of this nature permanent. Keep telling the story, changing the language people use and recognising breakthroughs to encourage more.

Recognise people’s contribution. The concept of recognising people’s contribution and the language used to acknowledge this when you’re not seeing them is increasingly valuable. Thank people, show appreciation, never expect people to simply just do things. Show respect for the boundaries between work and home, especially while the two have become increasingly blurred. 

Marry language with action. It can be easy to say the right things, but words are meaningless unless they are followed by behaviour and action. Don’t just talk the talk. Think about following up your words in other ways, such as sending a thank you note in the post, which will help make your message more personal. 

Jenny Perkins is head of engagement at Cirrus