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Leaders need to be connectors

Critical to organisational success, leaders need to embrace every opportunity to demonstrate leadership.

This includes communicating the direction and vision of an organisation frequently, consistently and with absolute clarity to both customers and employees. Yet few leaders appear to truly grasp the opportunity to do so - herein lies the problem and it has clear implications for leadership development.

Having worked with organisations across many different sectors, in my experience, most senior leaders at board level aren't familiar enough with the channels, of which social media is but one tool, that can help them do this. This doesn't necessarily mean that they don't see the importance or value, more that they expect someone else will be doing it for them. So typically Marketing will have responsibility for brand messaging to customers; HR for employee engagement and comms. However unintentional, this leads to a disconnect between the two and the linkage has to come from the leadership of an organisation because making these connections can be the difference between mediocrity and insignificance or sustainability and growth.

We polled senior leaders, HR, and Marketing professionals who attended our recent Breakfast Briefing event and the survey gives some interesting insights. Reflective of what was happening within their respective organisations it showed that less than 18% of leaders used social media either from a personal or organisational perspective. Of this, 60% used it as a tool to communicate with customers, less than 20% used it to communicate with both customers and employees.

This strongly suggests two things: firstly it shows that there is going to be a disconnect with external brand messages and internal communication ie. customer and employee engagement and secondly that more leaders need to harness the potential of social media as a means of communicating with many more customers and employees that they could ever hope to achieve by face-to-face interaction alone.

With the explosion in mobile technology, and let's face it most if not all of us walk around with a smart phone in our pockets, the impact of social media will become even greater. Rather than being viewed as an additional 'task' that is being expected of them, forward-thinking and savvy leaders understand that this is a tool that empowers rather than something to be apprehensive and negative about. Organisations need to ensure that they provide leaders with the support to enable them to do this effectively. Not only will leaders then be leading by example, they will also enhance the organisation's reputation and brand and support the efforts of the HR and Marketing teams. That said it's about more than just some social media 'training'...

Although it needs to start at board level, it won't really have an impact unless each leader at every level within the organisation is aligned and so linking to the organisational brand, the starting point has to be in developing a leadership brand - what the leaders of an organisation collectively want to be known for - to ensure a solid connection is made between the external and the internal. This then provides a leadership framework on which development programmes or initiatives for those in existing leadership roles or developing leaders of the future should be grounded within.

Why is this important for leadership development? Whilst engaging with customers understandably takes priority for many, those organisations that are cognizant to the fact that people drive the business, boosting customer loyalty and profit know that you cannot afford to solely focus on just the external.

The challenge for OD and HR professionals is to take the baton and be the proactive conduit by working closely with Marketing colleagues to ensure this focus is definitively reflected in the leadership framework because the leadership is intrinsically linked with what differentiates one business from another. Only then will an organisation be well positioned to achieve business sustainability and growth.

Naheed Mirza (pictured) is managing director of organisational development company, Ipso Consulting.