As I have shared before, early in my career, I struggled with my ability to communicate effectively. I lacked training and relied on my ability to “wing it” as my responsibilities increased and my exposure to senior leaders within and outside of my organization expanded. I tried to model the styles of others I admired but that impacted my authenticity and lessened my influence. I always felt threatened and worried that I would never achieve any significant professional advancement without the ability to both communicate up and provide my team with the support they needed.
My story is not unique. Many leaders ascend through organizations as a result of their hard work and competence without ever cultivating the most critical skill required for managers and leaders: effective communication. Sure, some can deliver a compelling presentation (undeniably a great asset) but being a leader requires so much more.
We expect our leaders to be able to inspire and motivate us but they also need to be able to deliver feedback, coach and mentor and, even more critically, create a two-way dialogue with their employees. But, most managers are simply not prepared to do so.
A 2015 Harris Poll survey reported that 69 percent of managers felt uncomfortable about communicating with their employees. Nearly one fifth of them said they would prefer to communicate via email rather than face-to-face. Even more alarming is a recent SHRM Workforce Study which found that 93 percent of managers felt they were not equipped with the skills needed to coach their employees.
We cannot simply assume that because someone has successfully landed themselves in a leadership role that they are ready to take on the responsibilities associated with that position. We need to focus on ensuring that they have the skills necessary for them and their employees to thrive. When training business leaders to communicate, here are four key aspects to keep in mind.
1. It’s not just what you say—it is how you say it
Many organizations are equipped with people who can create great messaging. For leaders, communicating effectively is more than simply ensuring you have the right words. How you deliver those words matter. What forms of communication are they using? How are they trained on which communication methods they should use in each situation? Sometimes a simple email or text message will suffice and sometimes it is important to meet with your teams together or one-on-one.
2. Trust needs to be established
Trust can only be established on a team when leaders and individuals demonstrate their willingness and ability to do what they say. Managers who shy away from communicating with their team will struggle to develop a trusting relationship even if they are otherwise trustworthy. Without efforts to build rapport with their teams by meeting with them in-person, understanding the ways in which their teams prefer to communicate, matching their styles and demonstrating transparency, managers can miss out on one of the most critical building-blocks for successful relationships with their employees.
3. Feedback must be provided and received
Feedback comes in many forms and, often, managers forget that positive and confirming feedback is equally as important as corrective feedback. Oftentimes, managers will only stop to think and provide feedback when there is a problem rather than a simple ‘thank you’ or reminder when an employee has done great work. And, even more important is that leaders create an environment where feedback is welcome. Managers should be seeking out feedback as much as they are providing it to ensure that what they are doing is resonating with their teams.
4. Listening requires more than your ears
Listening is a skill that most of us take for granted because it is something we presumably do all the time. However, active listening—the type of listening required for good leadership—takes practice. Being able to understand what is really being said and assessing the best way to respond requires a different type of listening. We are often more focused on what we want to say than hearing what is being said to us. What results is a big disconnect with the person with whom we are communicating. This skill is even more critical for managers to ensure their teams feel heard.
Do not underestimate the amount of training and development required for leaders to be effective and impactful. When looking at your leadership development programs make sure that communication is a key component.