Despite all the conversations and communications that take place in today’s over-noisy business world, senior leaders regularly forget five things that really matter if they are to engage, empower and inspire those they lead.
1. The Unvarnished Truth
While senior leaders want to hear what's really going on in their business they don't set a good example by sharing the truth with those further down the organisation. Out of a misplaced
desire to protect the individuals or the organisation, they put a positive spin on their message.
This is condescending, however well-intentioned. People see through the spin and don't feel good about it. Treating people like adults, who can not only deal with the truth but also deserve to hear it, is far more constructive. It builds trust – one of the most important elements in any productive relationship.
2. Feedback on Individual Performance
Whether giving feedback about good or unsatisfactory performance, senior leaders too often don't make time to do this. And yet people at all levels like to get regular, constructive feedback that lets them know what they are doing well and what they need to do differently. The old joke, so often trotted out with a wry smile – "I must be doing things right because I haven't been told I'm doing anything wrong" – really isn't funny! It's a sign of a neglected individual who wants and needs feedback.
Senior leaders who make time to give considered and considerate feedback to those they lead have far more productive and trusting relationships than those who either avoid this practice altogether, those who treat it as a once-a-year activity, or – worst of all – those who lambaste people periodically and then just walk away.
3. Their Vulnerability
This isn't about senior leaders simply letting their emotions run riot – people want a confident and assertive leader. I've never been a fan of the school of thought that suggests that the more a leader shares personal information, the more people will want to follow them. In my opinion, over-sharing of inappropriate, personal details does more harm than good.
But communicating vulnerability has its place and shows both humility and humanity that wins trust and support, both of which leaders need. Appropriate vulnerability is about saying "I'm sorry, I got it wrong"; it's about being willing to say "I don't know" and asking for help; it's about asking for opinions and genuinely listening to others' responses.
4. Their Confidence in Those They Lead
Busy senior leaders, faced with overwhelming amounts of data and complex decision-making, can also too easily forget to 'let go' and put their trust in others. Instead, poor practices such as holding on to too much decision-making authority, asking for too much detail to back up others' recommendations or focussing only on the flaws in others' arguments mean they unintentionally communicate lack of confidence in others.
By releasing control, trusting others' judgements without having to get every detail of their rationale and pointing out what is right rather than what is wrong communicates confidence and motivates others to get on and take responsibility rather than relying on the senior manager to always take the lead.
5. Interest in Everyone Around Them
Many senior leaders are often guilty of getting caught up in their own tasks and deadlines, rushing from meeting to meeting with their head down or in deep conversation with a peer or direct report about an immediate problem. Some senior leaders are shy and rarely leave their office, painstakingly avoiding all eye contact with people around them when they do. Others just aren't that interested in people. And all of these busy, shy, uninterested leaders communicate to the people they lead that they don't matter.
This is a big mistake. The more senior the leader, the more important their attention becomes to the people around them. The Managing Director who makes time to say hello to a junior employee can make that individual's day. The senior leader who regularly makes time to walk the floor will not only learn useful information that will help them make better-informed decisions, they'll also win the respect and trust of the people who are at the heart of the business.
And, quite simply, the more senior you are, the more you need to keep your head up and communicate with people all around you – even if it's just to smile and say hello. It's easy to forget how much your time and attention matters to others because, after all, to you, you're just you. And by the way, no-one believes that a senior leader doesn't communicate because they are shy – you'll be seen as aloof or uncaring instead!
If you take time to apply these five areas of communication, you will build the deep, trusting relationships that lead to employee engagement and loyalty, and unleash discretionary effort. Once they become regular practice, you will be making one of the greatest investments possible in those you lead, in yourself and in your organisation.
These are five things we believe senior leaders should communicate but fail to. What one thing would you add to the list? Let us know by leaving a comment below and we'll compile your top five.
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