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.

Number #1 Factor for Career Success: Increased visibility in Your Job

“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.” ~Margaret Cho~

Zachary Asks: You’ve seen a lot of people climb the ladder of success. And probably some fall back down it. In all that time, what’s the one thing people should know… but probably don’t… that would have the greatest impact on their career?

Joel Answers: Great question Zachary. We’ve been programmed that those who work hardest get ahead. But we look around and see that isn’t necessary so. We’ve also been told to dress for success, to be a team player, to communicate well, and to network.

All these things are important. They are an essential foundation to produce success. But you can do all these things and still feel you have somehow missed the growth trajectory you expected.

In my opinion, the real key that takes your strengths of hard work, communication, and all the others and propels you to success is one overriding skill: increasing your job visibility at work.

Wait! Don’t tell me, “Oh, everyone knows who I am.” It’s really more strategic than that.

If you fail to make yourself recognized at work, you run the risk that your peers and management may not actually know your impact. They may be clueless about what work you’re doing or the impact you are having on the company.

If they don’t see the overall value you bring to the organization not only might you not be promoted, you could be one of the first let go. Gaining job visibility is vital to career success at work.

Three Steps to Greater Visibility

  1. How does Your Work Bring Value to the Company? For some this is an easy question. They develop a product and the sales bring in revenue. But in middle management, sometimes there are more steps between your work and the bottom line of the company.

    It’s helpful to chart that out. Look at each thing you do and connect the dots to the company’s profitability.

  2. Can Your Coworkers Identify This Value? Coworkers can be a strong advocate in raising your visibility. They can praise your work to others or share your memos that tell what you are working on and why it’s vital.

    One way to increase your own visibility is to share the successes of others. “Our team worked overtime to get this report ready to present by the meeting. They really pitched in.” By implication, others will know you also pitched in and worked hard.

  3. Does Your Boss Know What You’re Doing? A key to success is making sure the management knows of your work, your projects, and your successes. You can do this as you:
    • Schedule review meetings with him
    • Send weekly updates on your projects
    • Bring him or her into the loop by consulting on thorny problems
    • Speak up at meetings with thoughtful questions and good solutions
    • Look for your remarkable achievements and share them- tell your story
    • Share what makes you unique so you stand out at work

Be aware of the ways you use to gain visibility. Your job is to check the outcome to see if they are getting the results you want. Are people aware of you and talking about your work? Are they giving you the highly visible jobs? In your annual review, is your boss commenting on some of the outstanding projects you’ve done?

Once you master the key to increasing your visibility at work, you will see your career move forward at an accelerated pace.

Are you looking to gain visibility in your job? Is it hard for you to come out of the shadows? Evaluate your visibility so you can learn how to become known for your actual impact at work.

Talkback:
Have you struggled to increase your visibility at work? What ways have you found to be most successful?

3 Keys to Climbing the Corporate Ladder

“If you’re climbing the ladder of life, you go rung by rung, one step at a time. Don’t look too far up. Set your goals high but take one step at a time. Sometimes you don’t think you are progressing until you step back and see how high you’ve really gone.” ~ Donny Osmond ~

Katherine Asks: Your book, Getting Ahead – Three Steps to take your career to the next level focuses on the three key factors that will propel people up the career ladder – improving perception, increasing visibility and exerting influence. Why should I focus on these three steps? Won’t my work/professionalism speak for itself?

Joel Answers: Katherine, I wish it was that easy. The truth is that how quickly and successfully you climb the corporate ladder depends on far more than just your excellent work. Advancement is based on the perception you create, not just the merit you have accumulated or the skill level you have achieved.

For example, one person I coached was a senior business development manager who worked for Cisco Systems for 11 years. He came to me for coaching because he wasn’t advancing in the company as quickly as he wanted to. Even though he had solid performance reviews and excellent job skills, he had gone four years without a promotion.

Like you, Katherine, this man thought that his work should speak for itself. He believed if he just worked hard and did a good job, people would notice him. But it didn’t work that way.

Because he didn’t let management know how valuable he was to the organization, they overlooked him. Think back to when you were in school. Didn’t the teacher recognize the person with the raised hand? While others flew under the radar?

The PVI model provides the art of getting ahead. It gives you simple steps to “raise your hand.” They help you improve your perception, increase your visibility and exert influence. When you do these things, you get noticed… and get advanced.

  • Improve Perception. You can help others have a more positive view of you. Simple steps can change their perception. Speak up. Take the lead. Praise others. Let management know how your work benefits the company. Help others see you as a leader, a team player, a hard-working problem solver.
  • Increase Visibility. How many people know what you do? When others are aware of your value, they can help you in climbing the corporate ladder. You might take on a project no-one wants or a high-profile project.

    You can interact with people outside your immediate organization and make ways to inform your boss… and even your boss’s boss about the important things you are working on.
  • Exert Influence. The surprising thing is that you don’t need any kind of title or authority to have influence. Your character and the way co-workers perceive you can build the trust and respect needed so they listen to your comments and value them.

    As you are known for getting things done, building alliances, and gaining buy-in for your ideas, you begin to be the kind of person people rely on. You can sway decisions. Others want to follow you. Then it only makes sense to promote you to a position that uses these qualities.

Katherine, doing a great job is the foundation that the PVI model builds on. It can’t work if the person does poor quality work. But once you have that foundation, using perception, visibility and influence helps you rise to the top, stand out, and get promoted.

Buy Getting Ahead and learn how the PVI model can help you. Contract Joel for executive coaching so he can personally help you in climbing the corporate ladder.

Talkback:
What did you do this week to move up the corporate ladder?

Break these Five Bad Social Media Habits at Work

“Like all technology, social media is neutral but is best put to work in the service of building a better world.” ~ Simon Mainwaring ~

Ellen Asks: One of my friends told me the boss watched how much time we spent on social media. I don’t want to get in trouble. How can I tell if I have bad social media habits at work?

Joel Answers: Social Media can keep us connected, speed communication, and increase productivity. But it can also be a distraction and a time waster. If you suspect you might be misusing social media, check out these six potential problems.

If you don’t eliminate these problems, you might get fired… or at least reduce your chances for a promotion.

  1. Wasting Time on Social Media. Do you check tweets, Facebook, and other social media multiple times at work? If you’re not sure, try the old rubber band trick. Put a rubber band loosely around your wrist. Every time you check non-work related media, snap the rubber band. Sore wrist? Chances are you’re overdoing the viewing.

    Instead of focusing on what interests you, consider the value you are offering the company. Limit Facebook to breaks, lunch, or other non-work time.
  2. Sending the Wrong Message. Be very careful of inappropriate post or tweets. There have been news reports of people fired for off-color or socially insensitive posts. Things are never private on social media. Tweets criticizing former or current employers— or even clients, or coworkers— have a way of turning up in the wrong hands.

    Instead, look for positive things to say about workers or employers. Save the negative for private conversations.
  3. Betraying Your Brand. You’ve worked hard to create a professional brand at work. But poor behavior on social media can damage your image. If you lash out, flame, or attack with meanness other points of view, it can come back to haunt you. Take care how you address politics or politically correct topics to be sure they are not offensive to others.

    Instead, consider the brand you want to present. The authentic you will behave in a way that reflects your brand at work, at home, and on social media.
  4. Inappropriate pictures. There are many kinds of good photos you can post to social media. Inappropriate pictures will, again, tarnish your professional image. Avoid photos that are suggestive or portray you in a questionable light. Avoid posting pictures of your fun trip— the trip you took when your boss thought you were home sick. Instead, use images to create the perception you want others to have of you.
  5. Dishonesty. Be very careful of misrepresenting yourself and your qualifications on social media. It’s a bad habit to suggest you have credentials or job experience you do not have. Instead, review your profiles and posts to reflect your best you. Work to improve yourself so you can accurately show accolades.

You asked a great question, Ellen. Taking care of your social media presentation and the time you spend there can have a significant impact on your work. Use it to strengthen your brand and showcase your abilities instead of it being a distraction. Then you can turn social media into a good work habit.

Need pointers on how to increase your visibility and strengthen you image? Contact Joel for executive coaching.

Talkback:
How have you overcome bad social media habits at work?

As a Leader, be so good they can’t ignore you

“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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Call to Action:
Take a short-cut to great leadership with Joel’s book, How to Be a Great Boss. Or contact him for executive coaching.

Talkback:
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.