Benefits of Effective Communication
As a leader, we don’t want to just say words, we want to communicate; to get someone to understand the what, the why and the how. With so much email, have you had the experience of being misunderstood; taken out of context? Now with multiple virtual meetings, there are even more skills needed to communicate and possible ways to be misunderstood. With virtual communication, how do we check for understanding? I find it pretty difficult to check facial expressions or get feedback on a virtual call.
Listen & Learn
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson
There is nothing more important for leaders than communication. Technical skills are great, understanding markets and customers is important, but without communication none of that really matters. Leaders have to be able to communicate with people on any level, whether they’re customers, employees, vendors, members of the community, governmental agencies – the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately for a lot of leaders, “communication” is just another word for “talking”. Leaders get asked a lot of questions and get asked for their input on a regular basis, and soon they’re talking constantly. Whether it’s a conscious choice or just a habit, it just becomes the norm that whenever they’re in the room, they drive the conversation.
The problem, of course, is that no matter how much fun talking may be, communication is a two-way street. You cannot claim to be doing your job as a leader without communication, and you don’t have communication if you don’t listen.
Do you really think you have a monopoly on good ideas or information? Of course not. But how do the ideas of others or the knowledge you need make it to you if you don’t listen? And your listening as a leader can’t be limited to just a few people. You can learn from anyone, and great ideas can come from anywhere, and if you’re talking all the time you’ll miss them.
The next time you’re in a meeting, or on a call, or just having a conversation, pay attention to how much talking you’re doing. It isn’t that you can never speak; but the idea that you should dominate every conversation you’re ever in is ridiculous. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not that great.
Practice being a productive listener. Make a point to ask questions and then actually focus on the answers. If someone comes to you with an idea, don’t immediately start talking about how great or terrible it is. Listen to what they have to say without trying to direct the conversation.
Listening is the most important piece of the most important part of your job. Don’t ignore it, and don’t pretend it doesn’t matter. Make the effort to become a great listener, and watch the change happen.
Personal Development: Being a Self-ish Leader
If you’re someone who views “personal development” as a check-the-box requirement on an annual performance plan I’m going to stop you right there. That attitude is at its best self-limiting. At its worst, it’s a sure road to nowhere. Here’s why: Personal development consists of activities that develop a person’s capabilities and potential, builds human capital, facilitates employability, and enhances quality of life and the realization of dreams and aspirations. Far from being a bothersome or meaningless task – or a luxury you just can’t afford to have, it’s actually the biggest tool you have in your leadership toolkit.
You Can’t Be Aware by Yourself
Being aware of ourselves is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. Everyone is watching you all the time and you need to recognize what they’re seeing. You need to be intentional about the messages you’re sending, and you can’t do that if you don’t know what some of those messages are.
Active Influence: Essential for Leaders
Much has been written “tactically” on how to influence others. Yet little has been explained on how to actively influence outcomes. How can you become more proactive and even predictive in reaching your most preferred future? It’s not by relentlessly executing tactic, after tactic, after tactic. Go to Amazon and you’ll find hundreds of books that offer tactics to “make” you a better influencer, but you won’t find many that provide real fundamental baseline concepts to change your behaviors.
Inspirational or Authoritarian Leadership?
I am sure everyone has had the experience of working or living with someone who is all about authority. They use their position to extract compliance or obedience from you.
How did that feel? If you would, indulge me for a few minutes in a simple little exercise. Try standing up and look into a full-length mirror as you reflect on that experience. As you look into the mirror, notice your posture, the position of your shoulders, any tension in your back or abdomen. What does the expression on your face look like? Jot down what you notice; what you are feeling.
Now, think about someone who has inspired you; really feel how you are when you think about that person. Again, look into the mirror- notice your posture, the tension or lack of tension in your back or abdomen. Now what does the expression on your face look like? Jot down what you noticed and what you felt.
I am confident there was a big difference between the two lists. I know when I have worked with an inspirational leader, there is no limit to how hard I would try to get the results we were working toward. With the authoritarian leader who just tells me what to do, I am resistant from the beginning.
So, what kind of leader are you? Would the people in your workplace describe you as inspirational? How would they describe you? This is an example of how valuable it is to get open and honest feedback from people in your organization. How can we improve if we are unaware of how we affect others and don’t have any awareness of our blind spots?
Everyone knows the saying “1+1=3” in regards to teamwork. If there is a challenge at hand, taking the time for the team to be involved in developing the plan and creating the solution is a way to be inspirational. You are demonstrating your trust and confidence in them. You are demonstrating the ability to listen to solutions that are not your idea.
Imagine if you just gave out assignments and declared “this is how we are going to do it.” Think back to the first exercise – how did you look in the mirror; how did you feel when you were imagining the authoritarian leader?
Creating a winning environment is everyone’s job, every day. Inspiring and empowering the people in your workplace to prioritize creating a winning environment maybe a lofty goal, but it will be a game changer for your organization.
Interpersonal Skills: Your Leadership Brand
Your interpersonal (relational) skills influence how people experience you as a leader. The reality is that others’ perception of you is your leadership brand. I like the concept of “brand” with leaders because it is a universal concept. We all know brands we like and dislike. The brands we like give us positive feelings and experiences. The brands we dislike have poor experiences associated with them.
In the world of online reviews, how many 5-star reviews would you get? Or would you cringe at the comments section? Can you consciously influence other’s perceptions or experience of you? Of course, your leadership brand is enhanced by how you consistently AND skillfully relate to others! If I asked your people to use words to describe you; would they use words like great listener, organized, consistent and dependable? 5 stars!
Interpersonal skills are “people” skills. They involve your ability to communicate and build relationships. If yours are sharp, you have an invaluable asset. If they’re not, your brand as a leader will suffer and you won’t influence others in the ways you want. There are several areas to develop, but here are my top three — get good at these and your brand will shine.
Stephen Covey hit the nail on the head when he said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” You can’t benefit from someone else’s knowledge, experience or perspective if you don’t listen to what they say and how they say it. Listening with intention is a skill many leaders don’t have. If you can master it, your brand of leadership will stand head and shoulders above others. Listening is leading.
Follow this simple process to improve your active listening exponentially.
- Be in the moment with whomever is speaking.
- Set down your phone and look at them. Let them know they are getting your attention.
- Eliminate distractions by removing yourself from a busy environment if you need to.
- ALWAYS make your people the main attraction when they communicate with you.
- Be willing to go “off course” from what you anticipated.
- Show you’re listening with your body language, nod or acknowledge ideas.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Take notes if the conversation warrants it so you can come back to key points.
- Acknowledge their point of view/thoughts.
- Don’t shoot the messenger when they tell you something, otherwise they will stop bringing anything to you.
- Summarize and check for your understanding. Simple and powerful practice.
Next is organization. These skills are about structure and efficiency and are so fundamental that we often don’t give them the time and attention they deserve. Start with your desk or workspace (which could be your vehicle). Keep it clear and orderly. Know where stuff is and have a system for it. Our work environment in a sense organizes us – it can “coach” us to be organized or disorganized.
The next skill is even simpler. KEEP A CALENDAR. And keep it updated. Use whatever tool works for you.
And finally (hopefully you learned this one early on) – show up on time. Be predictably prompt. Start and end meetings on time. Manage time the way you manage money (or better) – it’s even more valuable.
Keep Your Commitments
The word “C-O-M-M-I-T-M-E-N-T” scares many people for various reasons. For your brand as a leader, ground zero is the ability to make and keep commitments repeatedly over time. Leaders make decisions, decisions require commitment and a leader’s commitments are gold. I define commitment as a way of being intellectually and emotionally bound to a purposeful action. Once you say you are committed, that means you will do whatever it takes to deliver. Aristotle really hit the nail on the head when he said — “we are what we repeatedly do — excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”
Make a habit of keeping your commitments – those large and small. Do it repeatedly and see how much power and capacity you begin to create for yourself and those depending on your leadership. And watch your leadership brand grow stronger.
Leading with Empathy
Everyone communicates, yet few truly connect.
Ask anyone to talk about a memorable leader that they have worked with and it is unlikely they will speak about the step-by-step protocol that they developed or their ability to create the annual budget. I’m not suggesting that technical skills are not important, far from it. Although very necessary, they are not sufficient alone when it comes to truly great leadership.
It is your interpersonal skills, often referred to as ‘soft skills,’ and your ability to relate to others that will determine how successful of a leader you become. You can be the most knowledgeable leader in the world, but if you are unable to relate or interact well with those around you, especially those in your team, you are unlikely to be totally effective in your role.
So, what is it that great leaders do to build strong relationships with those around them? They commit to developing and mastering the ‘soft skills’ of leadership. There are several and this commitment is an ongoing journey of learning and practice. You’ve heard the saying “People won’t always remember what you say; they do, however, remember how you made them feel.” Connecting is the ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that increases your influence with them. A key leadership skill that advances your ability to ‘connect’ is empathy.
While empathy is a basic human quality, it often is lacking in our day-to-day lives and workplaces. According to Merriam-Webster, empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of and being sensitive to one’s feelings, emotions, or pain vicariously as if it was experienced by themselves.” In short, empathy means imagining, or having the capacity to imagine, feelings that a person is feeling.
For leaders that have encountered some “life experiences” being empathic may come naturally and imagining isn’t needed. Here’s an example:
Imagine a member of your team goes through a tragic situation; for instance, she loses a close family member in an accident. We naturally feel sympathy for her and her family. We may send a text or write a card to express those feelings somehow. For the most part, though, we carry on and move forward with our lives.
But when we show empathy, we take more time…time to remember how we felt when we lost someone close to us (or how we would feel if we haven’t had this experience).
We think about how this affected our work and our relationships with others. Even further, we can or try to imagine specifically how this member of our team feels in this situation. We recognize that she (like every individual) will deal with the trauma in her own unique way.
Empathy has been described as “your pain in my heart.” The challenge is, as a leader, we are not always ready and for various reasons. If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members it will go a long way toward building that strong relationship and encourages an “all-in culture” for them to perform at their best. It likely will pay dividends inspiring the team to show empathy toward the leader, if and when it is needed.
So how can you, as a leader, practice being more empathetic?
- The next time a member of your team comes to you with a problem or complaint; resist saying to yourself, “Not again. What now?” and having that negative attitude. Rather, try to think back to when you had a similar problem and if not you, someone you respect that has and ask yourself: “Why does this person feel this way? What can I do to help make the situation better?”
- If it is a specific task or process that is causing problems to arise, try to work alongside the disgruntled team member, to better understand the person’s point of view. This does require you as the leader to slow down and it takes time. Showing empathy in this way will often motivate the one(s) you are trying to help. Not to mention the benefits this will bring to your working relationship.
Simply put, empathy begins by giving others the benefit of the doubt. When you display this pause, presence, and compassion; in the eyes of others, it makes us more human, approachable and easier to work with.
Leadership requires learning a number of skills and interpersonal (or ‘soft skills’) transform good leaders into great leaders. Empathy is one key leadership skill that will allow you to truly connect with others and likely, you will find that your ability to identify, relate, and increase your influence advances.
Knowing Who You Are
As leaders, we are continually placed in positions where we feel like we need to have answers about outside things. We spend so much time as leaders thinking and planning and worrying about how to handle situations and people outside of us, that we forget to think about how to handle ourselves. Your job as leader is to help others be successful, but you can’t be successful if you aren’t getting the things you need.