Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a powerful leadership skill. Leaders need to communicate important things but, to do this well, knowing what people really need from you is essential. In the latest CommMasters blog post, MD Heather Campbell shares five secrets of leadership communication you can use to understand things from the other side of the table, and make your communications a two-way street.
Having succumbed to welcoming Alexa into my home, I’ve been handing over all sorts of responsibilities to my robotic assistant.
“Alexa, turn on the lights.”
“Alexa, find me a seven-minute work-out.”
“Alexa, turn up the volume on my TV…”
I might be a bit of a technology junkie but, despite this, I often wonder if technology is actually making my life much simpler. As I set about connecting Alexa to various lights in my home, I did wonder if flicking a switch was actually that difficult.
It’s easy to get caught up in advancement, and overlook the basics. I see this all the time when it comes to helping leaders become better communicators. In trying to inspire and motivate our people, we often forget the basic building blocks in the search for the new.
Getting the basics right
With leadership communication, there are some important fundamentals that really make the difference – the building blocks upon which good communication is built. CommsMasters recently worked with a key client to identify the core elements of communication. The things people really want and need from their leaders.
These are the fundamentals you should focus on if you want to communicate as effectively as possible. The real secrets of leadership communication – from the very people you want to lead!
1. Communicate the goal you want them to achieve
People at all levels across your organisation need to know exactly what it is you need them to deliver. While this might be done through discussion and negotiation, unless you’re specific from the start about what you need people to do, these discussions will lack focus. Articulate your goal or objective clearly, and let the conversation progress from there.
2. Share the information you already hold to help them get there
Leaders hold a lot of information in their heads – things they’ve learned from past mistakes, how best to tackle complex challenges, or the benefits of one approach over another. This sort of information is gold dust for the people around you, so share what you know.
Withholding information (whether intentionally or otherwise) means your people will waste time and effort figuring out the answers to things you already know. This doesn’t move the needle forward. Even if you have questions rather than clarity, sharing your questions and thoughts will give people a head start and, more importantly, a clear point from which to move forward.
3. Listen to your people
Everyone wants to be listened to, but listening well takes more than simply staying quiet while someone else talks. The best listeners suspend judgement, are open to challenge and will adapt their view. But this doesn’t mean giving in. Think about points (1) and (2) here – have you communicated your goal and shared key information? Do you need to spend more time on either of these before moving forward?
If you have specific expectations or information that you will not, or that cannot, be changed, make this clear as early as possible. Try to keep these to a minimum and resist the temptation to impose any personal preferences upon people – make sure you have good, evidence-based reasons to support any reticence you might have for change.
4. Ask questions that help build insights (don’t just tell them what to do)
Leaders are often excellent problem-solvers. When presented with a situation, they ask questions designed to fix a specific problem rather than opening up debate about the wider issues at hand.
Most people don’t want you to tell them what to do. They want to share their ideas, opinions and thoughts with you. If you can ask questions that are focused on building insights rather than getting specific answers, you’ll benefit from a wider range of perspectives than just your own. This will give you a deeper understanding of the problems and challenges you face, and you’ll come up with better ways to tackle them together.
5. Give feedback (when they’re going in the right direction and when they’re not)
The saying that goes ‘I must be doing something right because I haven’t been told I’m doing it wrong’ isn’t accurate. What’s more, firing off a quick ‘well done’ or ‘good job’ to someone doesn’t constitute feedback at all.
Taking time for feedback means exploring why you think someone has or has not done a good job. If they haven’t, this is about explaining how they didn’t meet your expectations. Think about point (1) here – did you communicate the goal effectively?
Food for thought
These five points are not linear or a step-by-step formula. Think of them as an upward spiral that sets up a positive pattern of interaction between you and your people. This in turn will lead to increased performance and productivity.
Sticking to this approach isn’t always easy. It takes time to figure out what the right goal is. Time pressures also mean that it can be easier for you to give someone a quick response rather than really listening.
We are constantly bombarded with advice about how to be a better leader. Focusing on these basic principles will give you a firm basis on which to develop and improve your leadership communication skills.
Now, how can Alexa make my life (apparently) easier today?