Very insightful and actionable article on effective professional communication written by our executive coaches, Steve Graham in collaboration with Diane Dean.
Exceptional leadership requires a commitment to learning how to be a better communicator. Being an authentic communicator is a great way to learn more about your people. Think about how many times something has gone wrong because of a miscommunication or lack of communication.
In an article from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a top attribute for effective leaders is communication. According to CCL,
Communication is a core leadership function. Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. Leaders need to be skilled communicators in countless relationships at the organizational level, in communities and groups, and sometimes on a global scale.
Having worked with leaders as an Executive Coach, and Heads of Learning and Development, for over 25 years, we observed the truth about the commitment to learning from our clients. Leaders who stop learning or think they know it all have lost their edge at becoming a great leader.
The essential lesson is not just about the technical parts of the leader’s job, but rather learning to understand people.
Being inter-personally astute requires a variety of skills and characteristics, such as trust, communication and authenticity. John C. Maxwell, author of Five Levels of Leadership, states:
The hardest person to lead is myself!
Everyone is a leader in some respect, not just by having a title.
Losing Your Audience
We use various assessments, as needed, to help identify any learning blind spots, for instance, The Highland’s Ability Battery. This assessment is used to understand a leader’s hard-wired abilities. Reasoning is one such ability. The score often indicates that our senior people are prone to mentally leap ahead of others, losing their audience, or the ability to influence and connect.
Not intentionally; unconsciously.
When this happens, the leaders may stop learning what the other person is talking about. The ideas lose their value and the work isn’t done as efficiently and effectively. The other person may freeze, and lose trust in the leader. This is where creative thinking stops.
The Little Things Count
When leaders communicate, it opens pathways for knowledge. They build more than just surface-level relationships. They also create a sense of needed value for members of an organization. It is the “little” things that make a big impression. Remembering birthdays, work anniversaries, children, and so on, will have a lasting impact.
In his book, Work Inspired, Kronos CEO, Aron Ain, discusses his experience with the importance of communication. He uses several examples of how building relationships can inspire work and create a culture that is open and honest. According to Ain:
Like expressions of humility on the part of leaders and managers, short, personal conversations with employees are seemingly inconsequential acts that over time pay huge dividends.
He suggests that leaders and managers need to invest more time in to face-to-face conversations adding:
As managers of people, we can derive even more value from casual conversations, using them proactively to overcome issues as they arise.
For some leaders, taking steps to effective professional communication is easy, however, for many, it is a challenge.
As coaches who focus on executive and leadership development, we have found that becoming a better communicator is a top desire for many of our clients. All of these leaders excel in their areas of expertise, however, they sometimes lack the ability to communicate effectively. This is a barrier to becoming more effective in leading their team or organization. If a person has the desire to be better, they can improve. Understanding the why of becoming a better communicator is not complex. It is the how part that is often the most challenging and useful.
How to Master Effective Professional Communication
There are various starting points in becoming a better communicator. When working with clients to improve communication, we often suggest:
- informal one-on-one time
- paying attention to non-verbal clues
- being open to honest feedback
According to a recent article entitled, 14 Proven Ways to Improve Your Communication Skills, in Entrepreneur Magazine:
Communicating clearly is one of the most effective skills you can cultivate as a business leader. Remember to communicate using nonverbal and verbal cues. Listen carefully to what others have to say, and over-communicate in novel ways to ensure the content of the conversation sticks with the audience.
Develop and Preserve Trust
Improving communication skills as a leader also helps develop trust. Trust is an essential ingredient in effective leadership.
Remember, trust is never owed to anyone.
You have to earn it.
It can take a long time to develop trust, but only seconds to lose it. Trust also comes in layers. As you strengthen any relationship, so does the level of trust. Leaders who are poor communicators often have a difficult time building trust at any level.
Building trust allows for progress and often eliminates any “push back”.
One of our clients was hired as a new Regional Director in a non-profit. Her biggest problem seemed to be push back from the team. They would comment about how this was not the way they had done it, and, that they had tried that and it didn’t work. Her key learning during our coaching was to ask, not tell; guide, not push. Learning about her team has smoothed out her transition considerably. It was clear that trust had not been established.
In another example, a few years ago, another client was concerned about trust. He was new to a leadership position and felt isolated from this team. During our first session, he repeatedly commented on how his team did not trust him. Of course, this was his perception, since he actually did not know enough about his team to gauge their feelings.
Over the next several sessions, this client was open about some issues that were clear communication barriers, contributing to the trust concerns. Like other new leadership roles, he assumed his title alone would produce instant trust.
This did not happen.
How can you trust a title?
Trust is personal. It is rooted in developing relationships.
Once he understood some of the basics to improving his communication skills, he noticed more trust being built with his team members. Again, this takes time, and the client desired an instant fix. Stop thinking about trust and communication as tactics. Neuroscience has indicated that attributes of solid leadership are empathy and trust. One builds on the other.
For more on this, read the Harvard Business Review article about the Neuroscience of Trust.
Establish Meaningful Connections
Having meaningful conversations does not belong on a “to do” list that is checked off each day. They must be woven into your leadership style, and flow naturally, to not seem forced.
If the conversation feels awkward, it probably is!
Once a client took almost an hour session to give me all the reasons she could not be a better communicator. She stated, “It does not feel natural.”
It is understandable to feel some discomfort when we are moving out of a place of familiarity. Our suggestion to her was to find a place that feels natural and start communicating more often. Your people need to feel connected to you. Each person will have a unique level of where they wish to be connected. Allow this to develop over time. Start small and then expand. Keep in mind you are developing trust with better communications.
Some leaders clearly do not see the value that, if you create a more open environment, you will have a better understanding of your organization. You will then be able to detect and respond to any potential issues faster.
Effective Leaders Communicate with Authenticity
Effective professional communication from a leader should come from authenticity. This is essential in developing trust. The goal is to be genuine in your approach to connecting with others. Being authentic allows you to encourage an open culture of communication. How well you listen to others will also enable you to be vested in the contributions of others.
One of our clients, who was really loved as a leader, head of a successful business unit, was promoted to President of his company. He had not anticipated some of the changes in his direct reports’ attitudes and behaviors that he immediately experienced.
During a session after he had been promoted to President, he confided that people had stopped talking to him. You see, he had been successful in other roles partially due to his relationships, the candid people around him, and the honest feedback that helped him be his authentic self. He had not changed anything except his title.
He decided he would just reach out to people just like he did previously, with empathy, interest, warmth and humor. In a short time, his management team and other leaders warmed back up, realizing this was the same authentic leader they knew — he was just the President now.
Authenticity does help build trust. This trait helps make your leadership transferable. You will be able to adapt to different populations and situations within your volunteer groups, church roles, and your employment position.
Leaders are Approachable and Authentic
Another goal is to be approachable, and this does not occur without authenticity and trust. The foundation you build as a leader will anchor your influence within the organization.
Being authentic does not portray weakness!
Well-known scholars at prestigious business schools have challenged the “authentic” approach for leaders. According to former Medtronic CEO and Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, Bill George:
While these writings have garnered plenty of press attention, their critiques of authentic leaders reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of authenticity. Authentic leaders monitor their words and behaviors carefully to be attuned to their audiences and to enroll their colleagues and teammates. They do so because they are sensitive to the impact their words and actions have on others, not because they are “messaging” the right talking points.
Many of the leadership barriers we encounter as executive coaches have roots in poor communication. Effective professional communication is how we get work done through people. This won’t happen just telling people what to do! It is achieved by understanding what the other is thinking, regarding the topic being discussed. Christian Nevell Bovee, illustrates one reason to be an effective communicator:
It is the nature of thought to find its way into action.
Thoughts are shared through authentic, interested communication. As leaders, we must help each other explore the different ideas being shared.
Effective professional communication includes listening because each of us expresses from our own “mental model” or mind pattern.
The impact of your leadership will be muted by a lack of effective professional communication. Leaders need to be able to express themselves in a way that allows for their words to have an impact.
Executive coaching can help leaders build communication skills that will enhance their abilities to lead people and organizations. As a leader, you are the author of your legacy.
- How do you want to be remembered as a leader?
- What ideas and thoughts do you want to be immersed within the organization?
- Are you interested in creating a lasting impression on your people?
Effective professional communication has been the key to many of our clients. If you are looking for support to improve your communication skills, consider executive and leadership coaching. An investment in coaching will help your leadership be remembered for the right reasons.