I learned how effective leaders communicate the hard way. Years ago, as VP of operations of a B2C company, I was given little choice but to take over the management of a service and installation department. The head of the department had suffered a debilitating stroke. I knew less than nothing about the installation and service of this product. I didn’t understand the job or the lingo—how would I even talk to the team? Not knowing, was a blessing in disguise. Coming to the team in ignorance, needing their help, I learned the first lesson of how true leaders effectively talk to their direct reports—Leaders show respect. I was forced to give every team member my full attention; I needed them to teach me and I respected them for it, and they knew it. In turn, I was respected for treating them with respect.
How Effective Leaders Communicate
Leaders don’t just talk they listen
If I hadn’t listened attentively, I wouldn’t have learned enough about the operation to be effective. I was at the mercy of those more knowledgeable. I needed them if I wanted to learn. So, I had to give them my undivided attention or I would fail.
Leaders talk with their team not at them.
This led to another epiphany, I helped direct the team for more than one year, and in that time I conducted weekly safety meetings, status meetings, and staff meetings. Before every meeting, I asked for help from team members. I counted on them to keep me from saying something—stupid.
Leaders ask for advice
The meetings led to another understanding of how true leaders talk to their team members. After every meeting I conducted I asked a trusted teammate for advice. I wanted to know what I could do better, how I could improve.
Leaders make it personal
In that year, I became close to many on the team and have continued friendships to this day. It became personal. I was completely honest about my lack of knowledge, and they took me under their wing. Eventually, we shared much more than work; we shared our lives and became friends.
Leaders talk the truth
Sometimes it was hard for me to admit what I didn’t know. Especially when the team had tried to show or explain, and I didn’t get it. It was humbling. If I wanted to learn, I had to be brutally honest about my lack of understanding. Ouch.
There Were Other Lessons
- Talk about specifics, stay focused
- Prepare before you talk
- Understand and control body language when others talk
- Talk with confident lowered inflection
- Remain open-minded when others share
Before conducting a seminar on teamwork at a retail outlet, the General Manager told me it was difficult to get people to work outside of their department. The GM went on to share that employees are informed they’re paid to work wherever they’re needed—not only their department. I asked the GM if the employees had ever been asked how helping other departments could be advantageous to them. During the presentation I asked the following:
- How could interdepartmental help positively affect the customer experience?
- Could a poor customer experience affect the bottom line?
- How could lost revenue impact an individual employee?
The staff responded that helping from one department to another could make a huge difference for the customer. Although this retailer has three distinct departments that’s not how the customer views it. If a customer needs help they don’t care what department an employee is assigned to. If an employee is available the customer expects their attention.
The team went on to share several reasons they should help each other including how service could affect bonuses. But, I stray from my point. When told to do it their natural inclination was to fight it, but when asked for their advice they shared compelling reasons to do just that. The difference was in the asking.
Why Should You Ask?
Tell don’t ask is an old school management technique that never was the most effective method for many situations. Following orders, while necessary in some disciplines, stifles creativity, limits dialogue, and eliminates brainstorming. If you want your team to embrace initiatives, the first step is to engage and involve them. When the retail staff was asked to share their ideas they not only gave the management team a few thoughts to consider, but also made improving interdepartmental teamwork their idea. In this scenario, asking not telling is making a bigger impact. Only two days later, department managers and employees had put interdepartmental action plans in place to help each other.
Before you decide to use the BIS method (because I said so!) or the old “my way or the highway” approach, consider whether involving the team by asking for their input is a more effective way to accomplish the desired end result. If laws and compliance regulations, policies and procedures, and proven systems aren’t being ignored or circumvented, asking may bring a greater buy-in than telling. So, let me ask you, do you ask often enough? Would asking more often be effective for you, what do you think?
I hope it doesn’t take a catastrophic event, as it did for me, to learn how effective leaders communicate. Leaders, listen, learn, and prepare before they talk; they keep an open mind while they talk, and seek advice after they talk. Are you a leader? How do you talk to your team?
How Can I Help You?
I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me.
So, does your business have a management training plan? Because, if not, many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.