A former colleague liked to remind leaders of their impact by telling them, “There are children you’ve never met who know your name.” The point was simple: Their followers were also moms or dads who were going home and talking about their day in front of their children. And you, their leader, had a starring role in that story. As leaders, we are far more visible than we realize, and we are sending signals to followers all the time — even when we don’t realize it.
And while sending the right signals to our followers is important at any time, it is especially important during times of strategic change, when followers are trying to make sense of a new “ask” from the organization, in the context of all the existing asks they are grappling with.
Why, then, is it so hard for leaders to send clear, effective signals to followers?
In my experience of working with leaders, and in my research asking followers what they need during times of strategic change, there are three main ways in which leaders too often send confusing signals to their organizations. Get them right, and you can signal clearly and effectively; fail to pay attention to how and what you are signaling in these three modes, and you will have confusion at best — and at worst, the opposite of the strategic changes you’ve asked for.