One element of leadership that is often overlooked and underappreciated is the skill of communication. In organizations, there seems to be a remarkable gap between the leader’s perception of the effectiveness of their communication and the team’s.
Here are seven elements think about in terms of closing the leadership communication gap.
- Get to know them. What are their short-, mid-, and long-term career goals? What motivates them? What doesn’t motivate them? Many times, I ask managers these questions about their team members. We do an exercise with a piece of paper, where they write down the names of specific employees, and answer questions about them. It’s a shame how many leaders do not have the answers to any of the questions and sit during this exercise looking mildly embarrassed. Now, will you get the information all at once? No. This is information that you will get over time.
- Have one-on-ones meetings. The best way to establish strong and solid communication is to have regular and consistent one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. These one-on-one meetings are designed for you to update them, and for them to update you. These are regular and consistent, and they need to be “calendarized.” Yes, I know it’s not a word. It’s a made-up word that I use to emphasize the importance of getting those one-on-one meetings scheduled on the calendar on a regular basis. In most organizations, the reason that one on ones never happen is because there are never scheduled. I once worked for a company for two years, and at the end of the two years, my manager left the company. At his going away party, he came over, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “Shawn, I really wish I would have had more time to work with you.” The reality is that this manager never worked with me, never met with me, never coached, or trained me, and was, in every sense of the word, a complete failure as a manager.
- Make sure your direct reports do this, too. It is also your obligation as a leader to make sure that any team members who report to you are also having one-on-one meetings with their direct reports. So, it is up to you to hold them accountable to repeat the good business practices of having individual meetings with their team members the same way that you have meetings with them.
- Have department or team meetings regularly. At some companies, I’ve asked groups about their team meetings, and they’ve looked at me like I have forty sets of eyes. Evidently, they never have team meetings, because their manager does not think they’re necessary. This is a huge strategic error. There are very compelling reasons for having team meetings. First, team meetings give the manager an opportunity to communicate to the team as a group on developments and changes (both current and imminent) in the business and the industry. Second, team meetings have a purpose, and it is up to you to decide the purpose of each team meetings. These meetings could be for informing, training, updating, following up, brainstorming, consensus, company news, and industry developments.
- Make sure communication is two-way. For whatever reason, some people in leadership roles think that their job is to tell not ask, and to talk, not listen. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings about leadership. Does the captain of a ship need to lead if their vessel is in dire danger, getting ready to crash into an iceberg? Of course. This would be the perfect time for a captain to tell and not ask. But I think that is obviously the notable exception. The gifted leaders that I have met are not dictating, are better communicators, and are not creating a monologue, but a dialogue. This is important for a few reasons: first, you can’t think of everything yourself. I know some of you think you can, but you can’t. Second, the combined brainpower of the team is always greater than the power of one. The point is, you must make sure that you ask lots of questions, encourage discussion, encourage dialogue, and get plenty of feedback. Third, you’ll have made sound decisions by having lots of dialogue and discussion. Here is perhaps an even more important point, you get better buy in because you’d least had a discussion with different members of the team.
- Be strategic about communication tools. I think that every leader should decide strategically how a specific piece of information should be delivered, and not just automatically go to the electronic default, email. When should you use email? When should you use voice mail? When should you meet in person one on one? What about meeting as a team? Each time important information is meant to be delivered, you need to strategically look at each tool to determine what would be the best approach for that piece of information in terms of delivery. Give thought to what would be most effective.
- Be direct and honest. The greatest leaders that I have ever reported to had the skill of being direct and honest, but without being overbearing or blunt. This is a skill which takes a while to develop but is appreciated by team members, because they always know where they stand. This approach does, however, take some positioning. We must make team members aware when you hire them that they can expect open, honest, and direct communication. Explain that you think it’s a waste of time and does everyone a disservice to be less than honest and not direct. You also need to make sure that whenever you are direct and honest, you explain the purpose behind it. Since some people are not used to direct and honest communication, they may question your motive. Therefore, it is still important to explain why you are having the discussion.
Using these seven techniques will make you a more effective communicator and leader.