Whether you lead from the C-suite or in a daily team stand-up, your people look to you for the information they need to do their jobs, recognition for the work they’ve done, and a clear vision of the path to achievement. When there is not enough communication, or worse, a disconnect between what you’re saying as a leader and what they are hearing, your leadership stature gets diminished. That is unfortunate for you, but the real cost is its effect on company performance. And yet this kind of poor communication is highly common.
According to a poll of 2,000 people working in a variety of industries across the U.S., only 31% are satisfied with the quality and quantity of communication in their organizations. By any measure, that’s a failing grade. In Dynamic Signal’s Annual State of Employee Communication Study, researchers found that 80% of respondents felt stress as a result of poor company communication, 70% felt “overwhelmed” due to fragmented messages and a lack of clear direction, and 60% were simply unhappy at work. If we stopped there, we would conclude that conditions are ripe for disengagement, absenteeism, and higher health care costs. But there’s another one that has the potential to devastate the bottom line: 63% of study participants were seriously considering quitting because of poor communication in their current workplace.
When you think of great leaders, what they are known for is great communication. No leader ever turned around a company or their team’s quarterly performance by keeping a low profile. To engage people and lead powerfully, you must treat every conversation as an opportunity to communicate with that person or group as clearly as possible, framing your message in a way that increases its likelihood of not just landing, but landing well.
Similarly, every conversation or Q&A must also be viewed as an opportunity to actively listen to what your people have to say. They know aspects of your business more intimately than you do, and you will build both their confidence and your stature by tailoring your communication to the people with whom you’re speaking.
Some types of leaders resist this idea. I am who I am, they can take or leave it. That’s limited thinking, and frankly, it no longer works. Teams now change and reconfigure in the course of a day. People work not only within their department but across departments, and this reality is only a microcosm of what occurs at the organization level across the globe. Talent is sophisticated, consumers are fickle, and no one has time for one-note leadership that isn’t attuned to the power of winning over an audience and engaging their energy and attention.
So how can leaders become more sophisticated in tailoring their message and actively listening to their constituents? The answer is relatively simple: By efficiently learning more about the individuals they lead, particularly their motives (why they do what they do) and strengths (when they feel at their best). Know these two items about the people you need to influence, and you’ve been handed the keys to the communication kingdom.
These keys are the reason my work with leaders starts by making the results of a strengths-based personality assessment available to leaders about themselves and every member of their team. With an efficient, mobile-friendly app for sorting the results data, leaders can do three powerful things with this information: 1) understand where perceptions of another person were off target and reframe what may have been a negative assumption; 2) tailor their messages to make every moment with a person or group audience more masterful; and 3) align future expectations more clearly, so that everyone feels comfortable on the same page—and powerfully led.
Let’s look at each of these areas more closely:
- Past experiences. A history of poor communication often boils down to poor relationships fraught with misunderstandings and one-upmanship. Facing or avoiding those people is a constant drain on a leader’s energy and effectiveness. Leaders who try to bend everyone to their own will or way of doing things are undermining performance, morale, and progress (yes, all of them) every day. Strong leaders, by contrast, understand that their role involves getting the best out of many different types of people. By gaining insight into the motives and strengths of your people, particularly those you struggle to influence or even connect with, you can see beneath the surface, viewing them more closely to the way they see themselves. This perspective lets you reframe past experiences because you now understand why your approach to this person or group was either tone deaf or misperceived.
- Present interactions. Now that you know the motives and strengths of others, you have the ability to make adjustments to your approach the next time you meet. We call this ability relationship intelligence: you as a leader can now adjust your communication style for the benefit of the relationship and getting work done. Granted, the other person or group may still harbor past resentments, but when they experience a different type of interaction with you, the shift to a more positive reception will be both visible and palpable. The truth is that people want to like their leaders, most want to do great work for them, and a single positive encounter can make all the difference in their engagement and performance. (Consider the alternative, which is more of the same, and you’ll quickly understand the immediate benefit.)
- Future expectations. A reframing of the past and a more positive interaction in the present immediately affects the future. Not only is communication now able to flow more freely, but both leaders and their teams have a brand new opportunity to get much better at articulating goals, aligning them, and actually achieving them. Sharing knowledge of motives and strengths—between leaders and individuals—allows for a deeper, more meaningful discussion about how people can give their best while meeting the needs of their colleagues and the challenges of their own role. It is here, in these moments of honest, clear communication, where a leader gains stature: not only in doing the hard work of motivating people to achieve results but in gaining their respect as a leader who understands them, values their contribution, and deserves their best effort.