By, Stuart R. Levine

Successful leaders live by fundamental leadership principles with discipline and focus.  They commit to continuous learning and strive to have their behaviors serve as a reflection of their values — setting the standard and expectations for others in their organization.

The CEO’s communication philosophy and actions sets the tone, whether it be openness with the board or sharing information with employees during challenging periods.  Relationships need a foundation of trust.  Actions must speak the truth to serve the mission of the organization more effectively.   We have seen the impact that communication has on the implementation of strategies – whether it’s the successful completion of mergers and acquisitions, strengthening or weakening existing client relationships, closing new business deals or engaging team members, employees and boards.

Your actions as a CEO or senior manager create the culture of your organization.  While speaking to a group of senior managers recently, the meeting was supposed to start at 9:15AM.  The first speaker was late and the person responsible for the meeting was waiting for the CEO to arrive.  The meeting didn’t start until 9:30AM.  This communicated the subtle message that it’s OK to start meetings late, decreasing creativity, productivity and engagement.    The people around the room were well-meaning, smart and ready to go.  But not starting on time sets the wrong tone and example.  As Arthur Ashe once said to me in one of his last interviews, “People are much more impressed by what they see you do, than by what they hear you say.”  Actions that do not reflect standards are communicated as part of  the culture of your organization, they trickle down and become the new standard of acceptability.

In another example, a CEO had a problem with a member of his board who was a vendor.  This potential conflict of interest created an unnatural tension for the leadership team and flew in the face of their stated ethics policy.  As a CEO, you hear it and pay attention.  But then, if you sense potential trouble, do you act?  Do you communicate your concerns and take action to create an ethics policy that sets the tone and establishes the right foundation for behaviors on the board and throughout the organization?   Managing  these sensitive issues to avoid both personal and organizational reputational risk is critical.

Have you ever watched the behavior of one of your team members internally and wondered if they are conducting themselves in the same way with your clients?  Don’t be in denial and assume that it’s just internal behavior.    In our client base, we work with CEOs who are juggling many key strategic initiatives and are being held accountable by boards and shareholders to achieve results.  If our communication doesn’t fit their needs, we stop providing value.  If a team member’s style takes you off focus, or is constantly creating work due to lack of clarity in their communication, this is a sure sign that your clients are being put off as well.  Ensuring long term client relationships is a basic objective of any organization.   People who wear thin, internally, are wearing thin, externally as well.  Think about whether you accept behaviors in your organization that you know are harmful to creating future opportunities.

During a recent medical visit, the doctor pointed out to her assistant that my chart reflected the wrong birth year.  I couldn’t help myself from pointing out the potential negative impact of this “minor” error, which could lead to subscribing the wrong medicine to the wrong person, increasing the length of time to get properly reimbursed, and the associated headaches and frustration from lost time spent to correct poor communication.   View your communication with this kind of intensity.

When creating a strategic plan, listening and sharing data in the right way engages your team and engages your board, brings the right thinking to the table, increases learning from one another and leads to innovation.   Identifying your values and beliefs helps to build a team and board based upon shared values that creates common bonds where people know what you and your organization stand for.  It increases your ability to challenge your team and board based upon the right intellectual, not personal, issues.  Mission, vision and values are not buzz words. When developed correctly, they are extraordinarily meaningful and provide the foundation for all strategic decision-making.  And strategic communication is no different. When communication is linked back to mission, vision and values, it is viewed in the most meaningful context and it will become a powerful differentiator for your organization.

Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm.