First and foremost, a leader’s job is to encourage, motivate and support their team in ways that result in team-work to produce the best possible results in the most efficient manner.
One of a leader’s essential skills is communication. It’s through good communication that encouragement, motivation, and support happen.
We’ll examine what constitutes the best communication practices for leaders.
What is Leadership?
Let’s start with the basics. Businesses, including manufacturing, sports, and community service organizations, to name a few, are formed to bring diverse talents and personalities together to accomplish more than any of the individuals could achieve alone.
How well would a quarterback fare in a football game if he had no receivers to pass to? How well would the best salesman get along in business if he weren’t supplied with a good product to sell?
And, in each of these examples, even if a team is assembled, how would the team fare without leadership to assign roles, define goals and objectives, and provide the training, support and resources to enable effective performance?
A leader’s job is to provide all this and help the team members work together and within an organization to accomplish the desired performance.
What is Leadership Communication?
Leaders at every level of an organization wear many hats. We’ve outlined very generally what the purpose of a leader is. Now we’ll zero in on one of the essential tools a leader employs to accomplish his or her task. That’s communication! Communication isn’t the only skill a leader needs, but it is part of virtually everything a leader does to enable a top-performing team.
Whether the leader is encouraging an individual team member, discussing the team’s objective with the entire group, working with senior management on a budget for the team, or acquiring physical tools and raw materials to enable the team’s work, the leader has to communicate with someone at every step.
The purpose of our investigation today is to define the best communication practices for leaders to use in all their relationships up, down and sideways in the organization.
Why is Communication Important?
Communication is important because it can enable cooperation if it’s done well. It can poison relationships if it’s done poorly.
There’s much more to good communication than asking for or imparting information. Communication can be used positively to indicate support, engender cooperation or sympathize with someone’s pain. It can also be used negatively to cajole, threaten or accuse.
Effective leaders are, without exception, good communicators.
We’ll look at some traits good communicators display in their communication style.
Leadership Communication Best Practices
Every communication with team members must be designed to build team spirit.
- Getting to know each team member is important. You want to know as much as they care to tell you about their family, their dreams and their activities outside the workplace. You want to assure them that you are interested in them as a person.
- An important part of communication is listening. It’s essential to listen with the intent to absorb the full import of what the other person is saying. After you’ve absorbed that, you can formulate an appropriate response.
- In your speaking and writing, be as straightforward as you can. Especially with written communication, look over what you’ve written. Could it be misinterpreted? Could it indicate unintended criticism? Written communication often gets meaning attached to it that the writer never intended.
- At every opportunity, your communication with your team members should strive to promote cooperation and camaraderie. You can help your team members do the same with you and with each other.
What are Common Mistakes in Leadership Communication?
Here are a few ways some leaders communicate ineffectively and fail to communicate well.
Among humans’ basic desires is to be heard and recognized as important.
Leaders who fail to recognize and respond to this need are missing a huge opportunity to develop rapport with their teams and among the team members. See the “Best Practices” section above for suggestions to improve in this aspect of leadership.
Closely related to personal recognition is seeing and supporting people in their emotional reactions to events in and beyond the workplace.
Failure to celebrate people’s wins and support them in their challenges leaves a void in leaders’ relationships with their team members.
A third aspect of aloofness is being unavailable for team members’ needs. This requires a delicate balance that each leader must establish for their individual situation.
Certainly some “closed-door” time is warranted when you can do the head-down work that requires concentration It’s also important to spend time checking in with team members and being readily available to answer their questions and discuss their issues.
Failure to Develop Talent
While this concern is outside the narrow definition of communication, it’s a key part of communication in a broader sense.
By definition, your top contributors are people who think ahead and seek personal and professional growth.
Failure to support them in this pursuit will likely cause them to move on to where they can grow with an organization.
Resisting Change and Risk-Averse Thinking
A “fixed” mindset (see Carol Dweck’s excellent book Mindset) seeks to stay with familiar tasks, goals and ideas. This approach will soon leave you and your organization in the dust, while those with a “growth” mindset are taking risks (defined as trying something that might not work but deserves experimentation) and making progress.
Individuals differ in what motivates and inspires them.
Suppose you offer paid family time to a single person who may enjoy their relationships at work more than time off. They would likely find more value in a company-supported savings plan.
Conversely, someone approaching retirement and with a healthy financial base might appreciate the opportunity to support their children and grandchildren in life’s wins and challenges.
Micro-management is, in my experience, one of leaders’ most common communication failures. It can manifest in several ways:
- Doing a team member’s job instead of letting them run with it.
- Telling a team member in detail how to do something about which they may have fresh ideas. Instead, answer any questions they have and give them the freedom to experiment with their ideas and learn from them. You, as the leader, just might learn something as well!
- “Looking over someone’s shoulder” and commenting on or criticizing their work at every minute step. Support them as they need, and then step back and let them bring you the result when they’ve attained it.
Micro-management can do more to drive away good employees and de-motivate others who stay than any other mistake I know of.
Examples of Effective Leadership Communication
Here are a few examples of leaders who have demonstrated effective communication skills and techniques.
However you may view Elon Musk (I certainly find some issues with some of his ideas and actions), he’s built a powerful organization through good leadership communication. One of his most effective strategies was to offer each Tesla employee the opportunity to participate in the company’s financial success.
Several years ago, I came across a story about his inspirational message to Tesla employees and wrote about it. Read that story here.
Jessica Rovello is the co-founder of Arkadium, an online gaming company. She instituted a unique communication initiative to replace traditional performance reviews. Arkadium had been doing semi-annual performance reviews with employees, which are always stressful for everyone. They replaced these with monthly “check-ins,” in which the leader would ask the employee three simple questions. Jessica explains this simple process in this one-minute video.
To recap, we form businesses and other organizations to accomplish more than any of us can on our own.
The improved performance we imagine when we form these organizations happens through teamwork.
Teamwork happens as the result of positive, careful communication. Careful honing of communication skills can improve teamwork and, therefore, business results.
Note: Archived issues of The Unity Community are available here. Search that page for keywords representing your particular interest. Most articles offer suggestions for ways of improving business and personal relationships. Keep in mind that business is done by…people. Every business concern is essentially an interpersonal concern.
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A “Shot in the Arm” Every Day!
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