Leading With Communication

You won’t find too many excellent leaders who are poor communicators. Some are better than others when presenting in front of large groups and some are better in one-on-one situations but overall, excellent leadership requires effective communication.

Effective communication means speaking in such a way that what you’re saying is crystal clear, easy to understand and hard to forget. Truly effective communicators accept 100% responsibility for the clarity of their message. They don’t blame others for misunderstandings.

Just so we’re all on the same page here I want to make it clear that I’m talking about face-to-face communication. The verbal kind, you know, like speaking with people.

Some leaders believe they can use technology as a substitute for personal communication. They blog, use their organization’s intranet, newsletters, etc. That’s all good because it helps support a message and sometimes repetition is required. But it’s a mistake to think those tools will ever take the place of face-to-face personal communication. 

There is no media that can communicate a leader’s intensity and passion as well as personal, human contact. When a leader exits the relatively safe confines of their office to personally speak with members of their team it automatically adds weight to whatever it is they are saying.

Leaders who are good communicators speak with absolute clarity, they limit the use of buzzwords, jargon and corporate-speak. Their actions match their words, if they say they will do it, then they do it. That consistency adds significance to every statement they make.

It is important for a leader to be an effective communicator when speaking to large groups but it’s vital for leaders to be effective when speaking one-on-one.

So, excellent leaders speak well but….Authentic Servant Leaders speak well AND listen well. They know that speaking is only part of communicating; effective communication is a two-way street and if you never stop to listen you are not communicating well, no matter how good of a speaker you might be. 

Most people merely listen to respond, Authentic Servant Leaders listen to understand. They linger on the words being spoken until they understand the intent of the speaker. If they are not certain they fully understand what was said they ask for clarification. They don’t guess and they don’t assume, they ask.

The very best communicators are incredible listeners. It seems that by truly, completely listening to what other people are saying they always know just what to say in return and exactly how to say it. 

Perhaps the true secret to speaking well is listening even better!

Why Communication Matters

Communication is pretty much at the middle of everything we do. It adds to or subtracts from our efforts to build solid relationships. It demonstrates our competence and confidence…. or not.

Every effective leader understands the importance of clear communication but not enough leaders seem willing to invest the time to be certain that they are communicating well. Every human interaction leaves behind an “emotional wake.” Every time you have a conversation with someone you leave them feeling better or worse. They may feel better or worse about you or they may feel better or worse about themselves. Either way this much is certain, there are no neutral human interactions. Every human interaction changes something. 

Communication is at the heart of every human interaction and communication is much more than the words we speak. Studies show that effective communication is 7% the words we say and 93% tone and body language.

So choose your words well, even more important, choose when and how you say them exceptionally well.  

Words spoken while angry never seem to come out the way we want; no matter how careful we think we are. Angry words can turn a small misunderstanding into a big misunderstanding so ditch the anger BEFORE attempting to communicate. 

But don’t use anger as an excuse to not attempt communication because lack of communication is just as bad. Poor communication and no communication are often the cause of problems between people. Wars have literally been caused by miscommunication. Think about the last 5 arguments you had with another person, I’d bet a small fortune that lack of communication or poor communication was at least part of the problem.

When leaders fail to communicate effectively they can cause frustration, bitterness, and confusion among their followers. Effective communication can eliminate rumors and bottlenecks. It builds stronger working relationships. When your people know their role within the organization and understand how what they do makes a difference there is a sense of value and accomplishment. 

Leaders who communicate well create an environment where people work together for the greater good. Excellent communication can help foster a culture of teamwork and selfless effort. 

Successful leadership requires clear and concise communication. It’s safe to say that if you’re not communicating well then you’re not leading well either.

So, what have you to say about that? 

Write Better Emails, Not Bitter Emails

Any idea which letters are the most dangerous letters in all of cyberspace? They are the ones which when strung together spell SEND! The most dangerous icon on some computers may be the one that looks like a little paper airplane. When you click on it you hear a little whooshing sound that lets you know the email you’ve just sent has permanently been placed into cyberspace. 

That’s why you should never hit send when you’re angry, what you send stays sent. (Yes, I know about that recall thing and I know how often it doesn’t really work)

Angry emails are almost always bad emails. 

You may feel better temporarily because you “got it off your chest” but you’ve just damaged a relationship, possibly your integrity or worse, both. So the first rule of sending better emails is to never send a bitter one. My mom used to always say “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and it took me a while (still learning) to understand what she meant. She meant you’re better off being nice, in any situation, than not being nice. 

So be nice when writing emails. 

One way to be nice when writing emails is to write “better” emails. Better is a bit subjective but here are a few widely accepted ideas on what “better” looks like in real life.

Be concise. On average we spend about 25% of our workday messing around with email. Many, actually most, are filled with just one or two (if we are lucky) highly relevant points and the rest of the message is just filler. Don’t write like that!

I think it was Mark Twain who said, “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter email.” Okay, he didn’t really say email but the point is the same, don’t be a lazy writer, put some thought into your emails with the goal of writing nothing more than needs to be written. 

Get to the point. Delete adjectives and adverbs. It’s absolutely unnecessary to add lots of additional words that make even your most important emails seem overly lengthy and too long and not short enough. Say what you mean and say it in as few words as possible, remember, when it comes to a well written email, less is more.

Reread before sending…twice. A great reason to keep your emails short is because the first person who has to read them is you. I’d be willing to bet that when you reread your emails you’ll likely just delete some of them after deciding they don’t really add value to anyone. Or you may just decide the tone is too harsh, or the whole thing is too meandering or that you’re repeating yourself or that your repeating yourself. 

End at the beginning. Most people begin an email by filling in the “to” field. That’s likely the last time they look at that critical field. To help ensure your email is received by the person you intended to receive it fill in the “to” field last and check and recheck the recipient’s name. NEVER assume the auto-complete feature can really read your mind. Be certain you know where your message is going because once it’s gone it’s gone for good…or bad. 

It’s a sad reality, at least it’s sad to me, that the majority of our communication today is of the electronic variety. That reality makes it imperative that we pay as much attention to what we write as we do with what we say. If you wouldn’t say it then absolutely don’t write it! 


The Approachable Leader

If you’re a very high level leader in a mid to large size organization you live a good part of your life in a bubble. The higher in your organization you are the bigger, and stronger, the bubble.

You may disagree with that but that’s because you live in a bubble, apparently the bubble can’t be seen from the inside but it is pretty obvious to anyone looking at it from the outside.

The bubble causes lots of issues for leaders. Generally speaking the bubble makes it more challenging to be an effective leader. That’s because not only can you not see the bubble, you can’t see the haze the bubble puts around everything you do see. The bubble also muffles the voices of a good many people you talk with.

Now, it’s not anything that a leader does that causes the bubble. A bit of the bubble is caused by people’s almost natural fear of being themselves around what I’ll call an “authority figure.” When you’re the boss you have a measure of control over a big part of your people’s lives and that tends to make a lot of them a bit skittish.

The biggest cause of the bubble however is what leaders don’t do. They don’t take concrete steps to escape the bubble or better yet, simply destroy the bubble entirely. They do not make themselves an approachable leader.

So, how does a leader get outside the bubble or eliminate it completely?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Transparent, consistent, honest, open, frequent, wide-ranging, real, two-way communication. Communication is a great way to bring downs walls and burst bubbles. There are many ways to effectively communicate these days, even if your team is very large.

Nothing will ever replace face-to face conversations. No matter what anybody says, nothing will replace the personal touch. So as I suggest a couple of alternatives to live, personal interactions please understand that I’m not suggesting you use these instead of personal communication, I’m suggesting to use these along with your frequent human interactions.

Write a company or organization blog. Don’t have it written, write it yourself. Seriously, a blog post saying hey, here’s what happening lately should take less than 30 minutes to write. Once or twice a month is enough and a reply or two can be done on the fly.

Obviously you can’t share proprietary information or make anyone an inside trader but you can stay more visible. The reality today is that people read blogs, your people will most certainly read yours. You can share your weekend plans, tell a story about your family, discuss a topic in the news. You may wonder why your people would care but know this: they do. You had better hope they do because if they don’t care about you as a person they can’t care about you as a leader. Let them know you’re human, just like them.

Do a weekly Podcast. A two or three minute podcast with current information and a shot of motivation delivered straight to your team’s email each Monday morning. Again, it’s purely conversational, personal and connecting. A two or three minute podcast shouldn’t take much longer to record than, well than, two or three minutes.

Both of these ideas require time. The question is does interacting with your people seem like an expense of your time or an investment of your time? As a leader, remaining close to the people who make-up your organization is priceless. It costs so little yet means so much.

This is an investment that will pay returns almost immediately, and unlike most investments this one is almost a sure thing. Why wouldn’t a leader make this investment today?