Jenny Schade's Making It Count
Before you read on: Take the JRS Consulting Leader Comunication Assessment. It's a quick self test of 25 survey questions that cover each of the five qualties covered below. You'll be immediately rated with a Leader Communication Quotient and receive a discussion of your results.
Research at my company, JRS Consulting, Inc., has identified five communication qualities as being critical for leadership. These skills are important for employees at every level, whether they are leading teams, managing colleagues, or directing company initiatives. In fact, effective communication is particularly important for employees who don’t have formal authority but are required to influence others in order to accomplish a goal.
The 5 Communication Qualities of Leaders
#1. Actively solicit input from your team members.
Here's a good example: After assuming leadership of a troubled organization, a newly-appointed CEO immediately embarked on a “listening tour,” seeking input from workers across company locations. Employees responded positively, with one noting, “I like the fact that she asked us for input bluntly, simply, and directly. That tells me she’s a lot more sincere than our previous CEO and is really determined to make the right decisions for the organization. It was the first time I actually printed out what a leader sent and I look at it now when I’m making decisions.”
#2. Spend time with customers and employees so you ensure that you are speaking in ways that are compelling to them.
In other words: get it straight from the source’s mouth. It’s essential to hear the language customers and employees use in real life so that you truly understand their perspectives and avoid using your own jargon.
As a restaurant manager once explained: “I’m in the pancake business. I’m not a marketing guy. They send me this marketing information from home office and I don’t understand all of the words they use, but I’m too embarrassed to call and ask them to explain. So I just throw it out.”
#3. Ensure your team members understand how they support the overall plan.
Organizations often devote extensive resources to developing a vision and strategic goals but then do little to ensure that employees understand these objectives. Our research using employee focus groups and surveys has found that employees are often able to parrot the company vision but frequently don’t know how to apply it. Some tell us confidentially that they doubt the vision is attainable in the current climate.
U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal describes how he uses “commander’s intent” to mobilize troops on the battlefield (Inc.com, 11-18-11): “The commander’s intent was designed to explain, in the commander’s own voice, what it is we were going to do, why we thought that was important, and how it fit into the bigger context of what we were trying to do…. If you empower each employee with that kind of context and understanding, they… understand what they’re trying to do and what the organization is trying to accomplish.”
#4. Walk your talk.
For example, if you ask for input, make yourself consistently available and approachable. I once dealt with a business unit leader who wasn't getting the regular flow of information he needed from his staff, despite his espoused “open door policy.” Staff interviews revealed that this director's moods varied so greatly that staff had instituted a secret red light/green light system outside of his office. On days with a green light, they felt free to approach him. But when the red light was out, they avoided him because of his angry outbursts. Communications coaching focused on helping this leader to manage stress better, as well as getting him out of his office, circulating with employees, and behaving in ways that conveyed greater approachability.
#5. Address the tough questions head-on, including during difficult and uncertain times.
Lack of communication or not responding to a tough question sends a distress signal with cultural consequences that cascade down through the organization. An employee relayed the following experience as she explained why her company’s culture was so resistant to change and risk-taking: “Our site had a Town Hall Meeting with leadership at which a senior manager asked: ‘Knowing what you know now, what are your thoughts about whether we should have gone public?’ Leadership didn’t answer him. After the meeting, the guy’s director went into his office and said, ‘Your career here is basically over.’ And it was – he ended up leaving the company.”
All of the team members in an organization are carefully watching what happens to those who take risks and ask the tough questions. If their career is negatively impacted, they will be reluctant to follow suit and those tough questions will be answered by the rumor mill.
Effective communication is one of the most important leadership skills. Every member of the organization must understand the overall company direction and how they fit in, and this overall direction needs to come from the top. If a leader isn’t a natural communicator, critical communication skills can be learned.
© JRS Consulting, Inc. 2012
Jenny Schade is president of JRS Consulting, Inc., a firm that helps organizations build leading brands and efficiently attract and motivate employees and customers. With a Master’s degree in counseling psychology, Jenny also provides executive coaching to help clients meet their personal and professional goals. Subscribe to the free JRS newsletter online at www.jrsconsulting.net/newsletter.html.
(Thanks to SportCommLeadership for the image.)