It’s almost a cliché – your leadership will never exceed your ability to communicate. The same could be said for any other kind of relationship as well – personal, professional, political, and any other kind that starts with “p.”
Here is a little checklist by which you can reflect on your own communication as a leader – or your leader’s communication with you. It’s meant more as a conversation starter or improvement guide than a “test,” so keep that in mind.
1. Do you clearly state exactly what your goals or intentions are?
Picture President Kennedy’s declaration that the U.S. would send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth before 1970. That’s about as clear as it gets. Do your followers have that clear a sense of what your target is?
2. When dealing with the problems of an organization or group, do you want to hear the brutal facts with no sugarcoating?
Effective leader communicators avoid the MUM effect – that of only wanting to hear the news when it’s good. Nobody can solve problems when they don’t want to hear what the problems are. Get the facts. Then…
3. When others are sharing information with you, are you careful to discern the meaning behind the facts and figures?
Data is vital. But so is the right interpretation of that data. Sorta like the two shoe salesmen who went to a village in Africa and saw that no one wore shoes. One saw an unmitigated disaster; the other saw an unlimited opportunity. The more potentially life-shaping the information, the more careful you should be about what it actually means. Then…
4. Do you make sure you understand the facts before you communicate important information?
You may think you understand the information you have just heard, good or bad. Careful. Sometimes “facts” come disguised as someone else’s opinion. Or sometimes you may be tempted to react emotionally before you understand all the implications of what you’re hearing. Many a leader has ripped his proverbial pants with a rant based on bad or misunderstood intel.
5. Do you point out problems that others may be experiencing without shaming or blaming them?
Want to turn your employees into hostages or prisoners of war? Embarrass them by blaming them in public for a problem. Humiliate them by attacking them personally or belittling them about something personal. Correction and coaching has its place. But there is a right and wrong way to do it.
6. Can people “read you” even when you’re not talking?
Quiet, reserved people in positions of authority carry a persona of intrigue and mystery. That may be a cute party trick, but it doesn’t make for effect leader communication. If you’re happy, sad, proud or pleased, notify your face or activate your tongue.
7. When you need someone else’s help, do you clearly ask for it?
This is no place for hinting around or hoping somebody can read your mind. Nor is being in leadership an excuse for not asking for assistance. There are things you can’t do alone, and there are needs you may expect others to attend to, but beware of the danger of assuming. Just ask.
8. Do you try to wait for the proper time to communicate important information?
Sometimes the worst time to communicate is now! That’s especially true if “now” means people are distracted, partly absent, woefully exhausted, or fearful. The greater the need for audience engagement or detailed understanding, the more careful you should be to time your communication.
9. As much as possible, do you communicate with subordinates as peers rather than as a boss?
The leader who uses his communication to strut his leadership authority is no leader. You’re just a boss. But when you talk and listen to people first on the basis of what you have in common – such as all being members of the human race – you will find your ideas and passion much more engaging.
10. In times of conflict or potential danger, do you communicate with authority?
Sometimes the building is on fire, the barbarians are at the gate, or the devil just came to Georgia. This is no time for a focus group or employee poll. Bark some orders and save the city. You can apologize later if you need to.
11. When you are angry or frustrated with a team member or someone in the organization, do you take time to cool off and gather your thoughts before communicating with them?
To be a leader is to eventually be disappointed or frustrated by someone who answers to you. Just remember, you can undo some of the things you do, but you can never unsay what you have said. That’s why words have enormous power. Take some time to cool off, make sure your information is accurate (see #4), and focus on solutions, not just problems.
12. Do you use gestures or other visual demonstrations in order to communicate more clearly?
Not everybody is an auditory learner. Some people learn better with pictures, visual demonstrations, or even activity (especially in training situations) than they do just with verbal explanations.
13. Do you clearly ask others for specific actions when you know what you want them to do?
If you know you want a two-foot wide, three-foot deep, six-foot long ditch, then specify that. If any old ditch will do, don’t. The clearer your expectations, the clearer the instructions should be. And here you need to be honest with yourself. A lot of leaders speak of empowering others to make decisions and all that, yet are still very picky about what those decisions should lead to. Be as clear with your instructions as you are with your expectations.
Do you have other ideas to evaluate how well you or a leader has communicated? Leave a comment below.
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