Five Communication Hurdles to Leadership Effectiveness and Influence

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Talkback:
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.

The 4 Most Powerful Leadership Words You Can Use

“Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.” ~Misty Copeland~

Client Taylor Asks:

I asked my employees for honest feedback on my performance, and a few of them said I’m too authoritative in the way I speak to them. How can I show them I value their intelligence and ideas?

Coach Joel Answers:

When David Steiner became CEO of Waste Management, Inc., he received an invaluable piece of advice from one of his directors, as I describe in my book Getting Ahead. The director told him that one phrase will help him shift the organizational culture more than any other: “I need your help.” These are the four most powerful leadership words you can say, and you should say them often.

Why “I need your help”? When you’re in a position of power, you may have the authority to impose your ideas on others, but that’s no way to motivate them. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of an ineffective manager. Asking for help in generating solutions, and plans for implementing them, is a surefire way to make employees more invested in their work. They want the chance to think creatively, helping you devise a strategy. It places you on more equal footing, showing respect for their intelligence. Moreover, it brings a broader range of ideas and expertise to the table. If you start using this phrase regularly, you’ll have shifted your whole leadership approach, and your people will take notice.

When should you use this phrase? Here are a few examples:

  1. When you need a new strategy.
    Maybe you need a new way of gaining market advantage because competitors have moved in. The best ideas don’t necessarily come from higher-ups—they might come from your team. Bring all creative minds into dialogue with each other for a brainstorming session. Saying, “I need your help” will make them feel empowered to think outside of the box to bring forth potential solutions. Encourage them to throw out any ideas that come to mind, without judging them, and watch ideas merge and evolve.
  2. When you need to improve workplace culture.
    When your workplace culture needs to improve, initiate change by saying “I need your help.” This strategy works much better than reprimanding people. Even if you need to critique an employee’s behavior or issue a warning, saying “I need your help to create a more harmonious workplace for everyone” can still work wonders. If you want to keep the employee on your team, this phrase will help him to hear you and modify his behavior.
  3. When the company’s in transition.
    If the company is about to go through a change, don’t keep employees in the dark about it. Rather, solicit their ideas for managing the change or devising innovative solutions. Instill the feeling of “we’re all in this together,” and employees will take pride in helping see the change through. “I need your help” are four powerful words that will boost your leadership of any challenging situation. Change might still be scary, but when you make everyone feel invested in creating a plan and seeing it through, it will be a growing experience for all of you.
  4. When you need help with a particular task.
    Use this phrase when you need help with the small things as well as the big things. Rather than ordering an employee to do something, say, “I need your help.” Whether you need a particular type of expertise, or you just need someone to complete a report, using these words shows you see the employee as an equal. You value her time, knowing she has other important obligations. When you make requests in this manner, employees will probably be happy to fulfill them, and it will foster a culture of gratitude.

Use these four powerful words, and your leadership skills will shine. Employees will see you as a great boss who truly cares about them. After all, these aren’t just words—they convey an attitude of appreciation and respect, which will help you get the most from your team. Remember, the best leaders know how to be humble, a quality that this phrase embodies.

Use these leadership words frequently over the next week, and keep a journal of your interactions. Email Joel for more tips on how to show your people how much you respect and value them.

Talkback:
How did people react when you used these leadership words? Share your experiences here.

The 5 Smartest Strategies to Build Influence in the Workplace

“Leadership is intentional influence.” ~Michael McKinney~

Client Brianna asks:

People often talk about the importance of influencing internal and external stakeholders. What makes a successful influencer, in your eyes?

Coach Joel answers:

Successful influencers do these five things better than anyone else. These five strategies foster strong relationships that make others see those influencers as people they can rely on. If you succeed in putting these five things into practice in your daily work, you’re just about guaranteed to build influence in your workplace.

  • Build strong partnerships. A strong influencer is able to create partnerships across all business units, thereby developing a wider base of support and cooperation. When you develop these strong relationships, you’ll help the whole organization to function more effectively—and you’ll be seen as someone who guides others in developing relationships that benefit the whole group.
  • Leverage allies. Your allies will help support your ideas and accomplish the tasks that have been deemed important. Successful influencers cultivate alliances with people across the company who are in positions of leadership or who have strong social capital. Influencers stay in close communication with these allies and have the confidence to ask for what they want. They know how to clearly articulate their needs for support to these allies, spelling out how their request will benefit the whole organization.
  • Cause others to rely on them. Because successful influencers shape group decisions and change outcomes for the better, people appreciate their confidence and know they can depend on them. Higher-ups as well as people they supervise come to them for advice and ideas. To get higher-ups to rely on them, successful influencers might become experts in areas that most people aren’t knowledgeable in, filling in important gaps. They might also demonstrate their ability to creatively solve problems that everyone else avoids. The people they supervise feel empowered by talking with them, because influencers give them guidance in developing and implementing their own ideas.
  • Lead up. When building your influence within your workplace, don’t just work to lead those who are below you on the hierarchy. Leadership isn’t about having a title. Influencers establish mutual respect with people above them, who seek out and listen to their opinions, ideas, and insights as a result. Voice your input to these key players with confidence, using your existing relationships with key players to reach new ones. For instance, if you have a suggestion for improving a product development strategy, present it to an advocate and ask for help in connecting with decision-makers. Carefully craft your rationale for your ideas and suggestions before speaking with those further up the hierarchy, and voice your input to these key players with confidence.
  • Gain results from others. Strong influencers know how to keep others motivated, lighting a fire under them to succeed. That means making them believe they can achieve their goals. They also work to create a positive environment that makes employees happy to come to work. As you become a person who gets results from others, you’ll inspire them to keep taking on more ambitious tasks that positively impact the company’s bottom line.

When you master these five qualities, you’ll have become a successful leader in your organization. You don’t need to be in a formal leadership position to hone and utilize these qualities. As you naturally assume more of an informal leadership role, a work promotion is likely to follow. Don’t wait until someone else gives you the green light—begin stepping into a leadership position now, by developing these key skills. Your influence in the workplace will keep building as you grow more practiced in all of these areas.

Try focusing on one of these five qualities each week. Email Joel to discuss your progress and how you can continue improving.

Talkback:
Have you tried any of these strategies? What were your results?

Three Immediate Strategies to Increase Your Influence at Work

“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire team-mates and customers.” ~Robin S. Sharma~

Client Lorenzo asks:

I’ve worked hard to improve my perception and increase my visibility in my company, and I feel I’ve succeeded. How can I leverage my visibility to become more of a key player in my organization?

Coach Joel answers:

Lorenzo, congrats on strengthening others’ perception of you and achieving greater visibility. Those are important steps toward becoming a key player in your company. To really have an impact on things like its vision and direction, you now need to increase your influence. Having influence over others will allow you to truly have an impact on your organization. Here are three strategies that will help you increase your influence at work.

  1. Get things done. Let people know they can count on you to accomplish even the toughest assignments. You’ve undoubtedly worked to brand yourself in this way while improving your perception. Keep it up, and work to take on more ambitious and high-profile assignments, particularly those that involve leadership. Your adeptness at managing a team will garner respect from team members as well as higher-ups.
  2. Become a go-to person. Become someone whom others seek out for advice when striving to accomplish essential tasks and make important decisions. Give honest feedback, instead of sugarcoating things so that others will like you. Rather, gain their respect by becoming known for your candor, being tactful yet truthful. If you start doing this in meetings, others will seek out your input. Make others feel comfortable coming to you for advice or to exchange ideas by being supportive and encouraging in all of your daily interactions.

    Additionally, hone particular types of knowledge or skill that will make others see you as the authority in those areas. Take note of any gaps in knowledge in your organization, work to fill them, and then promote yourself as knowledgeable in those areas. As you work to increase the influence you hold by becoming a go-to person, your whole organization will benefit from your efforts.

  3. Gain buy-in for your ideas. Your established credibility and respect will prompt people to embrace your ideas and want to be a part of what you’re doing. Before pitching an innovative idea, ask yourself whom you need on your side. Leverage the relationships you’ve built with key players in your company to get strong support on your side from the beginning. Sell your ideas to them by having data to back you up and preparing to respond to criticism. Most importantly, present your ideas with confidence, even if you don’t have seniority or a high-level leadership role. Having power or formal authority isn’t necessary to influence others. Belief in yourself is—and it will take you further than you might think.

As you grow your influence at work, you’ll increase your ability to sway opinions and will find people embracing your ideas. People will be loyal to you and your perspectives, and motivated to carry them out. You’ll soon become that person whom all your colleagues want on their team when introducing a new idea, because your opinion matters to everyone.

Do you have a plan for building your influence at work? Email Joel to make sure you’re on the right track.

Talkback:
Have you tried any of these strategies for building your influence? How did it work out?

Four Motivational Phrases Used by Top Leaders Every Day

“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.

Talkback:
Have you used these phrases with people you supervise? Do you have other favorite phrases for motivating people that you’d like to share?