"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw
What you say matters
One of the biggest challenges that I see business leaders face is the issue of "what" and "how much" information to share with their team and with their clients. For most who move into leadership because of their skills on the team, this is particularly true. Those folks you once complained with and vented with, are now "your" team and suddenly that type of activity could not only be counter-productive but very much a CLM (Career Limiting Move)!
What’s more, is suddenly you may also see what you communicate up the line to be something more problematic than it used to be. Do you share the issues you are dealing with and risk looking like a weak leader? Do you say nothing and hope you can resolve the issues on their own or better yet hope that those issues will simply go away? I always wondered why communication was considered a soft skill - lol!
Who do you emulate?
If you are in a healthy company or organization you will have a good pool of leaders to watch and emulate which in most places is how the art of communication is passed on. Open communication built on trust and vulnerability makes this skill so much easier to master. By that, I mean those types of groups where you can ask your question and not feel awkward. No one expects perfection just improvement and that comes with being transparent about the issues at play.
If you are in a company or group that is not healthy you will still have a pool of leaders to watch and emulate it's just that the things they pass along may not enhance your skills in this area.
These are the leaders who never really transitioned to a full understanding of their new role. They will share information and vent with their team much more than they should. The reason for this will be varied but typically they feel that it keeps the team on side with them. It may be an effective short term solution but upper management may see it as a negative.
Some leaders will be information hoarders who see this as a commodity and use it to advance their career or group goals. They become the informal conduits of information. This can clog up the flow of needed communication and certainly is a performance inhibiter.
Some will be the "keep your head down and mouth shut" type of leader who will strive to stay out of the limelight (good or bad). They take the approach that as long as the team doesn't lag behind the others and doesn't draw attention to themselves they can't get into trouble. Not bad per se just not performance.
And some leaders will be what I call the plumbers; delivering solid waste down and solid waste up. They think that leadership consists of berating and driving performance through threats and criticism. They think too that communicating the deficiencies of certain people on their crew up the line is a great way to demonstrate that they are "on top of things". It is a fear-driven approach to communication that is premised at some deep level upon the idea that as long as they are doing the shoveling of the solid waste none will land on them.
Right Is Not Always Easy
The question I am sure that has crossed your mind is how do you perform as an open and transparent leader in an organization that is not known for that? In one company that I worked with I had a group of young leaders that I was coaching in Operational Excellence. Of that group, a couple had decided they wanted to embrace my approach wholeheartedly. They were the newest leaders in the bunch and were at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. And yes, this company was not an open and transparent communication type of company.
While some of the older leaders in that group had become practiced at being "plumbers" these two new leaders went the other way. In each case, I saw transformational changes on their teams as they took to the new approach. It garnered a lot of criticism among some of their leadership peers but what could not be argued with was the improved results that they achieved. They upheld the company goals and explained them to the team in terms that related to them and how their work was relevant. They upheld their teams to upper management in terms of how they were striving to meet company goals and advance the bottom line. The result was remarkable and within a short span of time, they were rewarded with more senior positions. It only took two (and often it only takes one) to be willing to step out of their comfort zone to get others to take a new look at how they communicate. It wasn't easy but it was right.
Whether you have been in leadership for a while or are just moving into it examine how your company communicates, how you communicate and make sure you understand how to make your communication work for you and for your team. The need to be in sync with the company and the team and to know you are contributing is at the core of good communication and a key part of the "Human" (Hu) factor for improving workplace culture. Performance Leadership - Think About It!