Leading Effectively Through Clear Communication
by Joan Lloyd
Great communicators tend to be excellent leaders because they speak openly about what they think about, instead of expecting people to figure it out from watching their actions. They are easier to follow — people know where they are going, why they want to get there and what they have to do to move toward the goal. It sounds so simple; you would think every leader would just automatically be aware of the power of transparent, intentional communication. But they aren't. If you are a leader who wants to lead with more clarity, here are a few things to consider:
Have a Meaningful Vision and Mission
Most corporate vision statements could be randomly interchanged and no one would know the difference. They all want to be an "employer of choice," or "the leader in our field," or provide "quality customer service." If you asked your employees to explain what the vision is for their company could they tell you? Surveys show the payback of a meaningful vision and mission. People whose companies have a compelling and meaningful purpose and direction engage their employees' hearts as well as their heads.
The beauty of a clear, well-understood vision is that every employee can use it to guide their choices — where to invest their time, energy and resources. A small business owner I know often talked with her employees about what kind of firm she wanted to build-she was clear about the size, scope, kind of client and type of work she wanted. Her vision was specific and designed to serve a well-defined business need.
She realized the payout for that clarity some years later, when during a slump in revenues, she was trying to convince her team to take on work that didn't fit the vision she had described. They pushed back and argued that it would take time and resources away from the work that better fit the vision. Ten years later, the business had tripled in size because it stayed true to its course and had established the company's reputation in its niche.
Keep Priorities Clear
If you say one thing but do something else, you will just confuse people and slow down the business. Take for example the comment I heard recently from a manager who just finished the budgeting process. "We spent several weeks scrubbing the numbers, slicing and dicing until we squeaked out every last cent. When we were finally finished and the budget was approved, our priorities were crystal clear...or so I thought. Two weeks after we had approval on what our priorities were for the year, I heard a discussion about taking on a project that wasn't covered in our priority list. I heard a senior manager say, 'We just have to find a way to do this...'"
Of course, every organization changes priorities as the needs of the business change, but if priorities have no real meaning, and the rules change without conscious planning and intentional explanation, it muddies decision-making and slows down momentum. Employees feel whipsawed and get worn down and cynical.
Explain Your Intentions
Don't presume that those around you understand your actions. In fact, often they misjudge your motives. For example, while working with a talented scientist he mentioned that he didn't understand why his boss's boss often attended his own manager's staff meetings. "Doesn't he trust him? Why is he micromanaging him?" he asked. When I met with his boss later that week, I mentioned the staff meeting and asked why his manager attended his meeting, and if that bothered him. "Oh, not really. I think he just attends my meetings because he often cancels his own staff meeting because he is so busy." A few days later I was talking with his manager and the subject came up. When I asked him why he was attending his subordinate manager's staff meetings he said, "My boss, the senior vice president, expects me to have a complete and detailed knowledge of what is going in the new research projects. Attending his meetings is the fastest way for me to stay on top of it."Once he explained his intentions in attending the research meetings, everyone understood and opened up more freely during the meetings to keep him up to date.
Don't play word games, sugar-coat feedback or manage by subtle hints. Say what's on your mind and speak in plain English. And if people around you aren't clear, stop them and get clear, straight talk. If you get general or conflicting directives, probe until you understand what they want and why. If someone is fond of giving feedback by telling stories or using vague analogies, politely ask, "Just so I'm clear, what points do you want me to take away from this story?" If we were all a little more transparent, think of how much easier things would be.
Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, team assessment/teambuilding and retreat facilitation. Her line of management, career and job hunting tools (booklets, audios, CD & video) are available on her website. Email Joan if you have a question you would like considered for publication. Visit her website, www.JoanLloyd.com, to search her archive of more than 1100 articles, by keyword or category.