We have all heard the saying: “Communication is the key to success!”
Leadership coaches and successful leaders all agree that when it comes to communication – A leader can never communicate enough! The communication gurus say that even when there is nothing to communicate, the leader should communicate that there is nothing to communicate…
I have been asked the questions: “ How do you communicate effectively to ensure that everyone in the team are on the same page?” and “How do you ensure that you address and manage people’s expectations?”
To answer this, I’ll start by over simplifying in saying that communication is simply the exchange of information between a sender and a receiver, through a specific medium. In electronic engineering information is transferred from a transmitter to a receiver as an electric signal in a controlled way, ensuring the receiver receives the same information that left the sender – effective communication. That is no different with humans. As a leader communicating to your team, you are distributing information amongst other humans, amongst people – and herein the challenge. People, unlike electronic senders and receivers (which are manufactured to be identical) are different, not one is alike. Hence will the interpretation of the information exchanged through communication differ as well. The challenge to effective communication is to align the interpretation of the information into a common understanding between the communicator (speaker/sender) and the audience (listener/receiver).
The ways in which you can ensure that you are addressing and managing people’s expectations better, are in understanding the people better. A better understanding of people, paradoxically comes through effective communication – to ask questions and listen more than actually doing the talking (active listening).
Communication is more than just your words – it is also:
- how you say it – tone of voice, passion, authenticity
- why you say it – the message’s intention
- when you say it – time of day or after a specific milestone or prior an event
- what you say AND what you don’t to say – sometimes what you don’t say gives a clearer picture of what you want to say…
- your body language – facial expression, gestures and posture communicate a lot of the unsaid word
Consuming information leads to knowledge and knowledge is power. Thus communication leads to empowerment.
The ‘One Minute Manager’ refers to empowerment as: “Empowerment is something someone gives you – leadership is what you do to make it work.”
Communication empowers people with knowledge – to be informed and to feel part of something bigger. How the communication is being delivered (leadership) will determine it’s outcome.
What is Leadership – My definition: “Leadership is the art of leading a group of people or an organisation to execute a common task by providing a vision that they follow willingly through the inspiration received from the leader’s passion, knowledge, methodologies, approach, and ability to influence the interests of all members and stakeholders.”
How can you accomplish this if you cannot effectively communicate the vision in a way that people feel inspired to willingly take action towards achieving it? Effective communication is key…
You can have the best team mission with SMART objectives but if you cannot communicate it to your team, you will struggle to make progress. How well you can communicate your plan (unambiguously) will determine if your team will really mobilise and unite behind you and go the extra mile to make it happen. The ultimate success measure of effective communication is: “your plan becomes the team’s plan” – everybody on the same page!
People are not mind readers – they need clear instructions and clear information to make decisions and conduct their work, especially if the work is delivered within a team where coherence and a mutual output objective are of the essence. Ultimately, it is in your best interest to accept responsibility for getting what you need to succeed in the workplace. As leaders it is in your best interest and your responsibility to ensure that what’s needed to succeed, is effectively communicated to your work teams.
You can improve the effectiveness of your communication through paying attention to the following aspects, each discussed in more detail below:
- Know & Understand your audience
- Motivational & Confidence building
- Have a Plan
- Make sure the communication subject is clear – stick to it
- Be Direct
- Be Authentic
- Enough detail
- Bi-directional communication is more impactful
- Common Cause
- Think before you speak
- Emotional Intelligence
- Get Assurance – get feedback, assure the message sent is the message received
- Build Trust
- Situational leadership – choose the communication style to suite the situation
Know & Understand the Audience
Being an effective communicator allows you to address the interests and concerns of your target audience whether it being your team, your customer or client, the stakeholders or an audience listening to your presentation. Knowing and understanding your audience help to ensure that your grab their attention when you communicate and that they feel your are addressing the message to them. To understand your audience better and to structure communication appropriately, you can ask questions like:
- Who is the audience?
- Why is that the audience? (sometimes this is obvious but by asking this question, really think about who should be getting this message and why? Why not?)
- What are we trying to achieve?
- What are your plans?
- What are the expectations of me as the leader/presenter and of the people the team members/audience?
- What will be the desired impact of your message? (Also think about the undesired outcomes and how you can proactively prevent that?)
- What will be the impact of your plans to the business, the team and to the people personally? – Do not leave people with more questions than before.
- Why can we productively work together? (Understanding this is key to structuring the message to utilise people’s strengths to bring acceptance and empowerment – a sense of belonging.)
- How will we know we are doing a great job? (How will this be measured within the audience – everyone needs to understand the metrics.)
- Are you using a language (terminology and jargon) that the audience can relate to? There is a difference in technology speak and business speak. Align the vocabulary to your target audience – i.e. when addressing business leaders do not use too much technical acronyms and terms, rather focus on outcomes and financial numbers.
- Do you understand the audience’s needs?
- How can you, as the leader, meet their needs?
- How frequently do I need to communicate? (Constant)
- What method, approach and medium (usually a combination of) will deliver the message best? (Face to face, one to one, round table, town hall, informal stand-up, email, presentation (power-point), graphs, bullet points, etc…)
- To what level of detail do I need to go into, to describe clearly what I mean? (Post communication, everybody must have the same picture in their minds.)
Motivational and Confidence building
Communication should always be motivational and aim to build confidence within the audience – especially when bad news is being delivered. Ensure that you mention the performance of the team, the success resulting from the efforts. The positive future that awaits and the confidence that you have in the teams abilities to realise that future. Keep repremending content to the point and as short as possible and always follow it up with a positive prospect building trust and confidence.
Have a plan
If you are communicating change or progress, you must come prepared with a plan. Have a relevant understanding of the past, the present and the future. The plan is usually “how” the team will progress from where they have been, using what they have today to build the desired future. Progress against a plan must always be measurable to unsure continuous improvement.
Be clear on what is being communicated
Ensure that everyone is clear of the subject being communicated. Focus on the key message of the communication and present it in a direct and authentic way. Stick to the subject. Ensure that the message comes with the right context and content for the receiver to place it in the right perspective.
I believe in a direct approach – say it as it is. Have the guts to say what is needed. Speak about the hard things that no one talks about but everyone wants to hear. Address the elephant in the room, preferably before you are asked about it.
My believe is to always be truthful and authentic in delivering your message, be yourself – people see straight through anything else…
Ensure that you communicate just enough detail to ensure everyone has the same picture in his or her minds after you have communicated. Too much detail and people will loose interest. Too little detail and people will makeup their own inconsistent picture. Remember the story of the group of people that were told that there is a cat in the room next door… the storyteller waited for the picture to start forming and then asked each one of the audience to describe it. As you can imagine various different pictures were presented – a black cat, a ginger cat or is it a tiger?
Always be prepared to go into way more detail than what you expect – your ability to use detailed facts to support your message, especially when asked about it, will determine the credibility of your message.
Successful communication always has to be two-way. You have to be a good listener as well. Be prepared to have collaboratively discussions – listen intently before you respond. Do not formulate your next response in your head instead of listening to what is being said or asked. Your team will have a wealth of knowledge and insight that might help to enhance the right picture. This means being able to have a meaningful discussion with people, understanding, assisting and facilitating the resolution of their problems, ensuring people know what to do and why they are doing it without you having to tell them how to do it. (See Success – people come first).
Effective communication is the continuous search and commitment to seek for a better understanding. Approach conversations from a learning perspective, an opportunity to get to know more rather than a one directional “tell” perspective.
For the message to hit home it must address a common cause – something that address the benefit of the team but also on an individual level. Either create a common cause in your communication or remind people of the common cause – why it is important to be part of something bigger rather than just you as an individual.
Think before your speak
Stop and think things through before you act in haste, sending out an ill-considered communication. Think what needs to happen, what are the benefits, risks, what are the desired outcome… Then compile a well-considered and effective communication. Remember this – Once the message is out, you can never really take it back.
In the blog post on Emotional Intelligence, EQ is defined under five interconnected components:
- Social skills
Use your own EI to assess the situation before your decide on the appropriate way to react and how what needs communicating. In short I say:” Trust your gut feeling.”
Continuously test the effectiveness of your communication by asking people to relay to you what their interpretation is. Ask this questions at all levels – do not assume that the organisation structure will distribute the intended message to all that needs to hear it – go check for yourself. Get feedback. Get the assurance that people understand what you are communicating and that if people are remembering and acting on what has been communicated. If not – communicate again, again!
You want your communications to be trusted. How do you build trust? By doing what you say you are going to do and build relationships at all levels with integrity and honesty. When you are trusted, your communication is on-boarded more sincerely and you are taken seriously – building rapport.
Situational Communication (and Leadership)
There are many different leadership styles (read more here) as outlined in the list below:
- Autocratic Leadership
- Bureaucratic Leadership
- Charismatic Leadership
- Democratic/Participative Leadership
- Laissez-Faire Leadership
- People-Oriented/Relations-Oriented Leadership
- Servant Leadership
- Task-Oriented Leadership
- Transactional Leadership
- Transformational Leadership
The “One Minute Manager” summarised leadership into four basic styles:
- Directing – The leader provides specific instructions and closely supervises the accomplishment. (Communicate mainly by telling people what needs to be done)
- Coaching – The leader continuous to direct and closely supervise but also explains decisions, solicits suggestions and support progress made. (Communicate a directive or corrective after team collaboration)
- Supporting – The leader facilitates and supports people’s efforts toward accomplishment and shares responsibility for decision making with them. (Communicate similarly to the Coaching style)
- Delegating – The leader turns over responsibility for decision making and problem solving to subordinates. (Communicate collaboratively and inclusively)
Usually the leaders default communication style is directly related to the leadership style. An effective leader can adapt his management style and hence his communication style according to the situation, including consideration for the audience and the nature of the message to be communicated.
Remember and think about all the aspects mentioned for consideration, before you communicate. Be flexible and agile in your approach to communication – as a leader you must be able to fluently switch between different leadership and communication styles and mediums to ensure optimum results, in the moment. There is no one glove that fit them all, leadership is not a science – hence the art of leadership. You’ll know when you get it right – do more of those!
Every situation is different and hence can a single communication approach not be seen as superior to the other – there are no equals. I’ll conclude with this saying from the ‘One Minute Manager’: “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of un-equals.”