“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~
Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?
Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.
- Communication channels are undefined.
When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
- Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
- Communication flows only in a top-down path.
When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
- Views are unrepresented.
When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
- Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.
As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.
Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.
“As the leader, part of the job is to be visible and willing to communicate with everyone. ~ Bill Walsh ~
Diego Asks: I’m a fairly new boss in a large organization. Sometimes it seems like I’m invisible. My superiors don’t seem to interact much with me. And my employees go on in the old ways and don’t listen to me much. How can I be a better leader?
Joel Answers: Diego, it’s insightful that you don’t blame your boss or employees for the situation. That makes it easier for you to take control. When you lead effectively, they can’t possible ignore you!
Let’s break this down into three steps: evaluate, implement, and become.
- Evaluate. First, take this simple self-test. These are some key good leader qualities to check for. You can find the full test in my book How to be a Great Boss.
- Do I praise my employees for a job well done?
- Do is discipline in public or private?
- Do I give feedback?
- Do I give employees a chance to improve?
- Can I fire people when necessary?
- How well do I share credit?
- Am I helping my employees learn? Do I mentor?
- Implement. Once you have decided which areas you want to work on first, create a weekly “Take Action Now” list. Start focusing on the things you can change immediately. First, it helps you take control faster. Second, immediately people see the difference in you. Your credibility and visibility as a leader increase. People take notice.
- Become. Ultimately, there are seven qualities in a good leader. Diego, you will want to work on incorporating these characteristics into your leadership style to the point that this is the kind of person you are. When you adapt these great leadership qualities as part of your makeup you become too good to ignore.
- Empowers employees. Help your employees make the most of themselves. Give them chances to excel. Let them take risk. Don’t micro-manage.
- Provides growth opportunities. The best leaders recognize their employee’s capabilities and give them opportunities to stretch. They choose tasks that will help them grow, not overwhelm them.
- Trains through feedback. Employees can’t read your mind. Your best help is to clearly explain how they’ve met your expectations. Then teach them what they must do to do better. Or tell them what excellent things they need to do more of.
- Makes the tough choices. You can’t hope to be Mr. Popularity. Carefully analyze decisions and find what’s best for the company. Then walk forward in this decision with confidence— regardless of other’s opinions.
- Gives thanks. Good leaders give thanks and show appreciation. It’s such a little effort and it makes such a big difference with your team.
- Creates a positive workplace culture. Workers can’t thrive in fear and intimidation. When you give clear feedback and strong encouragement you create a hopeful, positive place to work. Create the expectation that every worker is and will try their best.
- Shows them the future. Workers are more likely to give full effort when they can see the results will be good for them. Take time to map their ascension plan with them. Talk about promotions and opportunities.
Diego, you asked a great question. Leaders aren’t born. Good leaders adapt qualities that add great value to whatever company is fortunate enough to hire them. Their employees love to work for them. They automatically gain visibility and status. I promise you as you master these skills, you’ll be too good to ignore.
A good leader knows the qualities necessary to take it to the next level. What have you done to stand out and lead? Share your experiences below.
“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
Damion’s goal was to become a great leader. He’d been under some mediocre leaders and wanted to do a better job than that. He looked at other leaders in the company and got some ideas of leadership skills from them.
But he felt there was more than what he was seeing. He wanted both the “why” and the “how” to become an outstanding leader. So he started reading. If you want to help yourself become a better leader, books are an excellent resource.
Damion’s created a list of leadership books that had the greatest impact on his career success. Damion offered to share them with you so you, too, could become a stand-out leader.
- On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis. Forbes magazine called Warren Bennis “the dean of leadership gurus.” This thought leader book resonated with Damion because Bennis affirms that leaders aren’t born, they are made. He lays out how to release the leader within us. He offers a valuable list of leadership attributes.
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You by John Maxwell. Damion said, “This legacy leader book left me inspired. His examples of great leaders helped me grasp the intangibles of leadership and helped me see behind the scenes of outstanding leadership in action.” Then he distills these traits into his laws of leadership.
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. Damion wanted to see some changes in his company culture. Gladwell’s book gave him great insight into how to use the connectors, mavens, and salesmen within the company to make those changes. It also showed how important it is to stop a problem early on before it gets to the tipping point.
- First, Break All the Rules (1999), by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. This book cuts through the theories and tells what leaders actually DO. Do successful leaders live by the rules? No. Gallup polls helped Damion understand the value of management along with leadership.
- Getting Ahead by Joel Garfinkle. Damion started out as a “do-great-work-and-it-speaks-for-itself” kind of guy. Garfinkle’s book helped him see that his work would never speak loud enough. Advancement involves getting others to see you and your work in a positive light. What’s more, we can control how others think of us, how we are viewed, and how we influence. Powerful stuff.
- How to be a Great Boss by Joel Garfinkle. Promotion doesn’t automatically confer leadership ability. This e-book talks about 7 key qualities of a good boss— from an employee’s point of view. What makes you the kind of leader employees want to work with? Garfinkle helped Damion see places to improve.
Damion found that reading books on and about leadership improved his confidence and the quality of his work. It gave him access to the brightest minds and a broad world of ideas and techniques. Then he pulled out the ones that best fit with his situation, his abilities and his personality and added them to his set of skills. There are many tools to help you grow as a leader. Books are one of the easiest and least expensive leadership development tools.
If you’re ready to step up your leadership skills to the next level and see major results, contact executive coach Joel. He can help move you forward faster.
What books have you read that have had an impact on your job and your leadership skills?
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~
Caleb, a manager in his workplace, often found himself fumbling for words. He wanted to learn how to make the most of his daily interactions with employees, even the brief ones. He reached out to several mentors in leadership positions. “What are the most important things you say to your employees?” he asked.
Strong leaders use phrases that give employees a powerful motivational boost, his mentors said. These phrases aren’t just sprinkled into a conversation. Rather, they often guide the direction of a conversation by opening a space for authentic sharing of ideas and appreciation. These five phrases are the building blocks to positive relationships based on strong communication, Caleb’s mentors told him.
- “You have what it takes.” It’s crucial to let people know you believe in them. They need to feel confident in their abilities in order to fully apply themselves. Find ways each day to express your confidence in people. Encourage them to take risks when you believe they’re likely to succeed, and to tackle ambitious projects.
- “How does that work?”This phrase resounds with humbleness, as well as the self-assurance to admit that you don’t know everything. As a leader, it’s vital to recognize that everyone possesses specific expertise and a distinct perspective. Knowing when to encourage them to share their expertise is an important skill for a leader. This is a good phrase to use in a meeting with more reserved team members who don’t normally boast about their knowledge. When you know they can explain something well that others will benefit from knowing, give them a confidence boost by asking this question.
- “I’m impressed.” This is one of the most important phrases used by leaders. When you take notice of others’ skills or contributions, let them know. Be specific about what you admire about their talents and efforts. Sharing your appreciation will encourage them to continue making a strong effort in the future. Use this phrase in front of other employees or higher-ups so that others will take notice as well, making this simple phrase an even bigger motivation booster.
- “What do you need?” Asking what employees need in order to carry out their work effectively shows you want to be supportive of their efforts. It also reveals a high level of confidence in others. Rather than micromanaging how their work should be carried out, you’re viewing them as the expert in how it should be done. A strong leader has the ability to play a supportive role by asking this question and following through. Posing this question in a more general way—in terms of how the workplace or job conditions could better meet employees’ needs—may help reveal broader areas of need, such as help with stress management or budgeting time.
- “What is your vision?” Likewise, this question shows that you value the ideas of others. You want them to feel invested in their work. And you know they’ll feel much more invested if they play a strong role in designing their own work performance goals. During one-on-one meetings, you should also ask them about their vision for their career and how they plan to work toward it over the next several years. This will show that you care about their career goals and will help you prepare talented team members for advancement.
Leaders who use these phrases are positioning themselves for advancement by improving employees’ job satisfaction and getting the most of their people. “Write down these phrases and keep them somewhere handy, on your desk or wall,” one mentor told Caleb. “Make sure they’re in a spot where you’ll look at them often, so you’ll have a continual reminder to use them. You’ll soon use them without thinking about it, and it will feel more natural every day.”
Try using all four of these phrases over the next couple of days. Email Joel for more advice on making your people feel motivated to excel in their jobs.
Have you used these phrases with people you supervise? Do you have other favorite phrases for motivating people that you’d like to share?
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
~ Robert Frost ~
Dana’s staff is constantly asking her what they need to do to get promoted. Her four direct reports are especially anxious to move ahead in the company. Neither the company nor Dana herself has a definitive mentoring program. She realizes that she needs to make some drastic changes in mentoring her staff in order to help them grow and be offered the opportunities they deserve.
In the absence of a formal corporate mentoring program, Dana takes steps to develop a mentoring program of her own. She meets with her direct reports and together they develop a simple two-part strategy. First, Dana will make new, high profile projects available to all who want them and encourage them to volunteer. Second, she will raise awareness of staff members’ accomplishments by proactively messaging not only her boss and peers but those C-level employees above them.
The four staff members left the meeting with their own personal action steps, and they also knew exactly what Dana planned to do to help them. She coached them on self-promotion techniques, such as copying the boss’s boss on project-related emails and planning appropriate times to speak up in meetings when projects they worked on were being discussed.
The group agreed on a one-month, three-month, and six-month review of the program. By the end of the first month, new projects were put on the table and Dana’s direct reports enthusiastically volunteered for their own projects. In addition, they took on some related lower level projects so they could begin to coach and mentor their own subordinates.
Dana scheduled regular one-on-ones with each of her direct reports and also put together a schedule of informal communications with her boss and other C-level managers to keep them informed about what her staff was doing.
At the three-month milestone, Dana noticed that a high level of enthusiasm had developed among her entire staff. Not only was the day-to-day work being accomplished more efficiently, they were excited about the opportunity to work on new initiatives, and some had even volunteered for cross-training in other departments.
After six months, Dana made a list of the tangible benefits that had resulted from the mentoring program, not only for her staff, but also for herself and the company as a whole. This is what she told her boss:
Benefits to the mentees:
- Opportunity to take control of their own learning and career advancement.
- A chance to develop valuable contacts in other parts of the company.
- Significant improvement in their productivity and enthusiasm.
Benefits to herself as the mentor:
- She had greatly enhanced her coaching and listening skills by working more closely with her direct reports.
- She had gained notice and respect of higher-ups in the organization.
- She felt validated and rewarded by passing on the value of her experience to those coming along behind her.
Benefits to the company:
- Productivity had greatly improved across the entire work group.
- Employees who were previously perceived as being “stuck” at their current level were re-energized.
- Cross-functional teams were developed as Dana’s people spent time in other departments.
Many companies have formal mentoring programs that are of great benefit to their employees. In the absence of such a program, a single individual such as Dana can develop their own, providing significant benefits to the employees involved, the manager, and the company.
Do your people need a mentor? This week list five different ways you could start a mentoring program in your own department.
Talkback: Have you been a successful mentor? Or have you been mentored by someone who made a difference in your career? Share your story here.
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