“Leadership is first, and foremost, a communication activity.” – Hackman & Johnson
We’ve all benefited from the communication efforts of great leaders.
We’ve also suffered through the pains of poor communicators in leadership roles.
I’ve found that great leaders regularly make five communication choices. I invite you to review each, assess how well you are doing, and consider a few quick challenges to improve yourself. I also recommend you share these with new or struggling leaders to help them improve their performance.
1. Choose to Address Poor Performance
Key Question: How did we get to the point where not providing performance feedback, or doing it poorly, has become commonplace?
Brief Thought: Keeping your mouth shut when an issue should be addressed does not lead to things getting better on their own. Avoiding the issue might seem an easy route in the short-term, but you will pay a price. Your reputation will be negatively impacted, your influence will weaken, and others team members may become cynical or disengaged.
In addition, the under performer is not being protected; he’s actually being disrespected. As GE’s former CEO Jack Welch put it, “A person shouldn’t come to work not knowing where he or she stands. That’s the cruelest form of management.”
Quick Challenge: If you’ve allowed a performance issue to go unaddressed deal with it this week in a respectful and productive way.
2. Choose to Understand What Motivates
Key Question: Why do we assume that everyone wants to be treated exactly the same?
Brief Thought: Look around. Everyone is different, and that’s a great thing. In the best organizations, the strengths of one team member makes up for the weaknesses of another. Unfortunately, in an effort to treat everyone the same, some leaders have turned a well-meaning concept into an ineffective behavior. As a result, they fail to tap into the unique potential of each employee.
Treating people as individuals doesn’t mean that you apply policies differently among your team members or that you use unfair and inconsistent promotion practices. It simply means that you recognize that what motivates one employee doesn’t necessarily excite another. Or, that the potential of one person for a certain role is different than that of another. The key is to see and appreciate each person for his or her unique commitment, capabilities, and contributions.
Quick Challenge: Speak with two or three team members this week to learn what really matters to them.
3. Choose to Listen
Key Question: Does it seem that many leaders chose to talk more than listen?
Brief Thought: The expression, “you have two ears and only one mouth, use them in proportion,” is lost on some leaders. Whether the function of an organization’s culture (leaders talk; everyone else listens) or the personality of specific leaders, talking too often should be unlearned.
The ability to ask one good question at a time and then listen (really listen) with the intent to understand is a key leadership skill. Many issues would be avoided or more quickly resolved if more leaders chose to listen first.
Quick Challenge: The next time you ask someone a question, ask only one question and listen to the answer with the intent of truly understanding. Don’t get wrapped up in your own head preparing a response. Instead ensure that you truly understand what is being shared with you.
4. Choose to Talk Straight
Key Question: How have we come to think that someone can become a great leader without being controversial or upsetting at times?
Brief Thought: Leadership is a tough, often isolated role. The leader must make decisions, deliver messages, and convey information that can upset some. Not every leader is up for this task. As a result, some leaders water down their messages or avoid addressing a subject in a timely and direct manner. This helps no one.
The business goes down the wrong path, money is wasted, and lives are impacted. If something needs to be said, “say it.”
Quick Challenge: The next time you are faced with conveying bad news, chose to speak the truth in a respectful, timely, clear, and compassionate manner.
5. Choose to Share Perspectives
Key Question: Have you or your people ever refrained from sharing an insightful perspective out of fear that you may sound silly, uninformed, critical, etc.?
Brief Thought: Your organization hires people to collectively produce better results. To do this, ideas need to be thrown on the table, critiqued, and ultimately selected for implementation based on their individual merits.
You should create a culture that is open to new ideas and not one where individuals are unwilling to share certain perspectives out of fear that they might upset someone.
Quick Challenge: If a potentially productive idea pops into your head this week. Choose not to squash it out of hand. Instead, elect to speak up and share.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.