The best leaders all have one thing in common: they are skilled communicators.
Leaders who effectively communicate improve culture. When leaders make a concerted effort to keep people informed, employees are more engaged and feel like a part of the team.
Next, leaders who effectively communicate create alignment. When leaders consistently revisit key messages, employees become aware of how their roles contribute to organizational goals.
Finally, leaders who effectively communicate build trust. When leaders use clear and transparent communication, employees are more supportive of the school's initiatives.
In short, effective leadership is impossible without effective communication.
High-performing schools don’t just operate with transparency, they operate with radical transparency.
Radical transparency involves providing staff, parents, and the broader community with unfiltered access to nearly every facet of day-to-day operations.
By committing to radical transparency, schools empower others to make well-informed decisions. Stakeholders - armed with insights into the inner workings of the organization - are less susceptible to manipulation and the dissemination of misleading leadership messages.
A key strategy for fostering a culture of radical transparency is to grant complete access to the decision-making process. Whether it involves openly sharing meeting notes, district-wide data, survey findings, or email exchanges, transparent leaders have no issue disclosing the information that shapes their decisions.
So, why do so many leaders choose to withhold important information?
Foremost, information wields tremendous power. Unfortunately, many in leadership positions covet this power and resort to extreme measures to retain it. Leaders who are reluctant to share information mistakenly believe that doing so will diminish their authority.
Pride also plays a significant role in the reluctance to embrace transparency. Many leaders are hesitant to share information that puts them in a less than favorable light. Rather than take accountability for the results, many leaders opt to stay quiet and brush unflattering news under the rug.
While concealing the truth may keep people happy in the short term, it does not foster trust in the long term. Once it is known that the leader is withholding important information, employees will question the leader’s motives and start to wonder what else the leader is hiding. Therefore, administrators are advised to share news with staff … even when the news is unfavorable.
While there are huge benefits for districts that embrace a culture of communication, cynical employees often question this approach. Exposing organizational flaws, hurting people’s feelings, and sharing “confidential information” are common concerns of transparency pessimists.
Google Drive is a prime example of this dichotomy. Collaborative digital tools have changed the game, allowing schools to operate at a whole new level of efficiency and cooperation. Unfortunately, some employees love to pounce when they notice mistakes are made.
For example, at times sensitive information is accidentally shared with the wrong audience. In these instances, the “Confidential Information Police” make their presence known by immediately proclaiming, “Oh my gosh—look at what you just did! This is why you shouldn't be so transparent!”
One example happened during COVID when our district office was placed in charge of scheduling vaccinations (a topic covered in educational leadership courses, obviously). Seeking transparency and overcommunication, I shared a Google Doc with staff containing the names of employees who would receive the first round of vaccines.
I immediately caught wind that a few staff members were upset their names had been shared. Although the document listed nothing more than people’s names and appointment times, certain employees were upset that we had shared confidential information.
The following day our leadership team debriefed on the communication snafu. I immediately took ownership of the blunder, and helped the team develop a new plan to communicate appointment times with individual staff members.
However, I took that opportunity to reinforce our commitment to transparency, reminding our team of the following:
In a culture of transparency there will be occasional missteps. I would rather we overcommunicate and get it right 95 percent of the time than worry about the 5 percent of the time we get it wrong. A few isolated challenges should not stop us from doing what is best for our organization.
The topic of effective communication cannot be discussed without mentioning the innovation that has turned information sharing on its head: social media.
The impact of social media on communication cannot be overstated. In today's hypertransparent world, information is readily accessible and community members are quick to turn to social media to share news. When an incident occurs within our schools, it's only a matter of time until students, staff, and parents spill the tea on their favorite platform.
While the incident becomes common knowledge among the community, some schools still operate as if it's a closely guarded secret. Leaders often hesitate to share details, perhaps under the advice of legal experts who may be concerned about potential liabilities. However, best practice in today's world suggests a shift towards proactive communication.
Always remember: When something goes wrong in your school district, someone is going to tell your story. Embracing proactive communication not only allows you to control the narrative but also builds trust and helps manage the situation more effectively.
By sharing information responsibly, addressing concerns, and demonstrating a commitment to resolution, school districts can navigate challenging situations while preserving their reputation.
Looking for more ideas on effective communication? Consider the following seven ideas:
Awareness: Administrators must seek to understand the unique communication needs of various stakeholders groups, consistently taking their audience into account and customizing their messages. While tailoring messages to meet the specific needs of students, staff, parents, and community members may take more time, it is crucial for effective communication.
Clarity: Clarity includes using plain language, avoiding jargon, explaining acronyms (education has hundreds of these), and eliminating unnecessary complexity from messages. Administrators must understand that their audience consists of individuals with varying comprehension levels, so making information accessible to everyone is essential.
Diversify: School leaders must utilize a diversified set of communication channels to ensure the message is delivered to the intended audience. By learning how to effectively mix email, newsletters, social media, phone calls, texting, and face-to-face meetings, administrators can cater to the preferences of various stakeholders.
Text Messaging: Text messaging has become so important, it needs its own section. Texts are a crucial tool for schools as they offer quick, direct, and efficient communication. Everyone has a cell phone, and texting is more effective than emails and phone calls when conveying essential information, such as emergency alerts, event reminders, and weather updates.
Support Staff: Leaders are notorious for sharing information with teachers while leaving support staff out of the loop. It's as if paras, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, and food service staff are not “worthy” of receiving messages. In reality, effective communication should extend to all members of the school community, recognizing that all employees play a significant role in the school’s success.
Feedback: Requesting stakeholder feedback on the effectiveness of a school's communication is paramount. By actively seeking input, schools can identify areas for improvement, address concerns, and strengthen the overall communication process. Using a feedback-driven approach not only enhances transparency, but also cultivates a sense of community.
Ownership: Communication is the responsibility of the district, not the community. School leaders like to blame parents when they don’t get a message. “I sent a letter home. I don’t know why they didn’t show up,” we complain when a small percentage of families attend an event. Rather than blame the audience, administrators must take ownership of failed attempts and constantly refine their communication methods.
Finally, when debating whether or not to share information, leaders are encouraged to follow the advice of the folks at Nike: Just Do It.
In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek highlights the crucial role of communication in shaping a culture of trust, advocating that effective leaders prioritize open and honest communication to build high-performing teams.
Sinek's insights underscore the notion that leadership transcends authority; it revolves around building meaningful connections through communication.
Successful leaders who prioritize effective communication will be rewarded with motivated, high-performing teams that thrive in an environment of shared purpose.