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David Nelms is the former CEO of Discover Financial with 17,000 employees. Communication is a hallmark of David’s leadership style and played a huge role in growing his company and creating an engaged and productive workforce. He realizes that the importance of communication will only grow as how we communicate changes.

As part of the research for my book, The Future Leader, I interviewed more than 140 top CEOs from around the world. Most of them agreed that some of the core principles of leadership won’t change in the future, for example, creating a vision or communication. But at the same time things like communication will change dramatically. It’s the leaders who can evolve with new communication channels and approaches that will be the most successful.

Communication is a hallmark of David’s leadership style and played a huge role in growing his company and creating an engaged and productive workforce. He realizes that the importance of communication will only grow as how we communicate changes.

David said this: “A leader who doesn’t adapt to the new ways of communication will never be heard. We aren’t getting and sharing information the same way we used to. Understanding the various tools we have to communicate as well as how to communicate across different channels is essential, and as the number of ways to communicate increases, this skill will only become more valuable.”

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David is a strong believer in feedback loops. At Discover, David would constantly communicate with his teams. He hosted regular Q&A town hall meetings and annual roadshow meetings with a live video feed for all 17,000 employees. He also wrote regular blogs where employees could participate in open dialogue on a variety of topics. And it was not uncommon for David to drop in on employee huddles to talk with teams directly. He even hosted monthly customer listening sessions where he would listen in on service calls and then develop action plans to address any issues.

As technology grows and how we work evolves, people are working in a more collaborative fashion, which requires greater communication as we can clearly see from this current pandemic. A great leader can’t be a great collaborator and encourage their team to collaborate if they themselves can’t communicate well.

David says the new channels have made communication more important and diverse. “As you think about social media and real time, historically people could have one or two primary modes, and now it’s many ways to connect with employees and leaders. A leader who doesn’t adapt to the new communications the way people and employees are getting information now will never even be heard in some cases.”

Communication is a timeless skill that leaders have always needed. With new technology and channels, the ability to connect with people the right way has never been more important. As David Nelms says, in order for leaders and organizations to succeed in the future, they must learn how to communicate.

“For many years it was phone – based and voicemail, and then we added email. But now, it’s really starting to explode with videoconferencing and collaboration tools, so there’s going to be a lot more diversity of types of meetings and contributions. Communication is also a lot more continuous and real time versus periodic. Historically, we all did annual plans and maybe didn’t deviate that much, and a lot of the focus during thee year is “are we on plan and what do we need to do to get on plan.” That’s going to be shifting to shorter and shorter periods and it’ll be a little bit more what’s the opportunity, are we adjusting this month; not are we exceeding the plan, but are we maximizing the potential.”

If you want to be a more effective leader and communicator then ask yourself the following questions when you communicate with others:

  • What are the best channels to use to get information across?
  • How does the way you communicate make those around you feel?
  • Are you communicating in a clear, open, passionate, and humble way? Are you being human?
  • If someone communicated to you in the same way you are communicating to others, what impact would it have?

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