4 ways to communicate with influence in matrix leadership

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The way we do business has changed dramatically, and many could argue that leadership has never been so important.

Businesses are moving away from traditional hierarchies in favour of matrix structures and while these structures are not new, they are becoming increasingly common meaning communication and the ability to influence have become vital cogs in the success machine.

Research from the Harvard Business Review (HBR)  shows that only 9% of employees consistently demonstrated self-awareness. This is a key ingredient for success in matrix organisations. The research also showed that only 20% of leaders displayed empathy, and 22% had well-developed influence skills.

All of these skills are essential when it comes to communicating effectively and delivering outcomes in a matrix style organisation, yet they are still sadly lacking in many companies.

Let’s explore why communication is so important for matrix leadership, and what it means to excel in leadership communication.

Why is communication so important for leaders in the matrix?

Leading teams in matrix structure is very different to leading a team in the traditional business hierarchy. With so many companies moving to a matrix style, the importance of communicating with influence has increased. In a matrix organisation, you could now be relying on people you’ve never met, who you have no real authority over, to achieve results and deliver your outcomes.

Staff need to feel engaged and have a sense of belonging. Gallup’s Global State of the Workplace report highlighted that a dismal 14% of employees in Australia feel engaged. Tie that in with a LinkedIn report which found 48% of staff see transparent communication as a key to feeling they belong, and you can see why communication is one of the most important leadership qualities you could have.

Needless to say, if you don’t have effective communication in your leadership toolkit, you could be heading for disaster.

Below we discuss the key areas of communication you need to master in order to be an effective leader in matrix organisations.

Influence – The cornerstone of matrix leadership

Influence is the art of boosting the importance of your ideas or projects within an organisation with many competing priorities. You’re not the only leader who thinks their outcomes are the most important, so how do you leverage influence to achieve your goals without direct authority over staff?

There’s plenty of ways you can influence others, but generally you need to have some runs on the board first. Leaders who haven’t built relationships, earned trust or gained credibility will be on the back foot straight away when it comes to influencing. Here are a few ways you can communicate with influence:

Reasoning: Using logic to explain the importance of your ideas or projects.

Consulting and collaborating: Asking for help or involving others can create an attachment to your idea. If your proposal benefits others, make sure they know about it.

Inspiring: Getting people excited about your idea. This can be done by showing enthusiasm yourself or even appealing to other people’s values and beliefs.

Trust and credibility: If you’ve helped others in the past, you’ve developed trust which can be repaid. Sharing resources works both ways – if you’ve got the credibility from previous successful collaborations, people are more likely to return the favour.

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Making leadership communication effective

In a matrix organisation, the challenge for leaders is finding effective communication methods. The most obvious difficulty is geographical. To achieve outcomes now, you might be relying on employees in another country or state who you don’t have a personal relationship with. Above all, communication needs to be far more structured and effective.

Many leaders communicate only when they need to, but to succeed in a matrix organisation, communication needs to be more deliberate. One way to communicate effectively is to have a well-coordinated communication plan. Successful projects need a communication plan which clearly outlines who has certain information, who needs certain information, when they need it and where to find it.

Furthermore, embrace technology and use it to your advantage. It can be difficult working in such a spread-out environment, but in reality, it’s never been easier to communicate with colleagues all over the world.

Influence with empathy and build trust

Are there leaders in your organisation who always pull the rank card and issue commands to staff? How do you think they’re perceived by the majority of employees?

Sure, they may get things done, but by not communicating with empathy, they’re missing out on an incredible way to influence. Alarmingly, a report by Interact found 69% of leaders feel uncomfortable communicating with staff in general.

Having great communication skills doesn’t just mean being a good talker. It’s about listening too.

Leaders need to genuinely engage with employees, particularly front-line staff who make the business run. When you have a disconnect between managers and staff, productivity takes a big hit. Why? Because people give so much more when they buy into a leader’s ideas and direction.

In a matrix organisation, leaders need to make the effort to connect with staff and understand the issues affecting them. If matrix leadership is confusing for you as a leader, spare a thought for the employees reporting to multiple managers.

One of the key leadership qualities is making communication an action, not just something that’s talked about. Don’t tell staff that you’re working on improving communication without following through.

Furthermore, choose appropriate methods of communication. When dealing with emotional issues, ensure you do it face to face or via video. Emails can often lack nuance and cause your message to be misconstrued.

Collaboration and learning

I mentioned earlier that collaboration is a great way of influencing. It’s also quite simply a great (and necessary) way to get things done. In matrix leadership, you’ll need to work across departments and even across countries to achieve results.

Knowing the responsibilities and skills of other leaders is essential because you’ll understand how your work affects them and more importantly, how they might be able to help you. Can your work benefit another leader? Bring them into the project and share resources for a common goal.

A matrix organisation presents a unique opportunity for everyone from leaders to operational staff to gain a much broader perspective and develop skills. Embrace those opportunities for networking, and empower staff to think outside of their own box.

Increasing your influencing skills is integral when it comes to succeeding in matrix leadership. Becoming a strong communicator and influencer could be the key to getting your proposals, ideas and projects over the line when you don’t have direct authority over teams.

To take your leadership to the next level and influence your audience, spend some professional development time with our influencing webinar.

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The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their leadership skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

Tim Chilvers

Having led a range of businesses in both small and complex teams, Tim enjoys working with people and organisations determined to realise their potential – those prepared to act decisively and with the conviction required to bring that potential to life.