Sometimes as a coach, I get asked if there is one thing that leaders do that is more important than almost anything else. My answer is yes: Leadership Communication. I am being specific in putting the word "leadership" in there because this is different than talking about the game last night or how warm the weekend was. This is communicating back and forth about things that are relevant to your role and your organization. So if you can do only one thing as the leader of the team, what would it be? The answer almost always should be to communicate! I feel so strongly about this that I am going to state:
Whenever you are stuck or unsure of what to do or what needs to be done or how to go about doing something – look to communication to provide you with the next steps.
Before we go any further on this one, let’s set our communications up for success by informing people how we plan to communicate to them and getting their commitment to engage in that fashion. I know this seems simple but if you decide the primary means of communicating to the team will be monthly team meetings then it is important that they know this.
Similarly, if you are an email junkie and plan to send weekly updates out via email, it is important that your team know so that they bother to check their emails.
Whatever your intentions (and by all means don’t just rely on one mechanism), make sure you get a commitment from those you are intending to communicate to, so that they will “have their ears on”. Just sending out information is not communicating. For communication to happen, the information has to be received, interpreted correctly and understood. (And how often do you think THAT happens??)
Setting up the protocol in advance is very important with your boss and your clients. Rather than setting up random meetings or sending miscellaneous emails in your boss's general direction – set up a protocol so that he or she knows what to expect. This can be a monthly or bi-monthly face to face meeting or an email summary once a quarter or whatever. If your boss knows what it is you are trying to do – then he or she will be far more likely to engage in the communication as both a willing recipient and bilateral partner. Your boss’s engagement is a key component of your success in any venture.
So – set up communications protocols so that people know what to expect. This is as true going up the food chain as it is going down and around the food chain. So - for communicating with your direct reports...
This is a fancy way of referring to those that report directly to you. How you set up your communications with them is perhaps even more critical than going up the food chain because these are the folks that are actually going to get things done and define your success as a leader!
It has been my experience that everyone on your team will want to be "in the know" so you can’t go far wrong by making as much information as possible available to them.
This can be as simple as posting the minutes of every board or executive team meeting where people can access them – some will not care to look, others will review them with zeal.
Certainly any major decision should be communicated immediately along with the decision making process and any critical input. Again the idea here is to demonstrate transparency, openness and grow credibility. As an example, deciding not to undertake a project “because I didn’t have time to look at it,” is not the kind of response that will grow your credibility. Just the opposite in fact! Demonstrating a reasonable decision making process goes a long way to allaying fears and suspicions while growing leadership credibility – even if people do not agree with the decision, they should not be able to fault the decision making process.
Team communication is important but so is communicating to your peer group, your advisors, your stakeholders and other interested parties. For example, keeping the your peers in production, engineering, marketing or whatever informed of your intentions will prevent you from getting to far off track or worse yet, ending up with a product or service that flops or that requires a lot of rework.
Communicating with your peers allows them to support you with feedback, connections, tricks of the trade and you may even inspire a similar approaches and processes within their teams. Positive collaboration is only possible when communication is open and plentiful.
Invariably there will be situations where you make mistakes or things do not work out as planned. Again the answer to minimizing the damage and cost is to communicate.
Tell people what is going on - be honest about what has happened, where you are, what you are going to do differently next time and show them some hope for the future. Also - take accountability for your role (and your team's role) in making the error. You can actually gain credibility by being honest about your mistake whereas you can spend a lot (if not all) your credibility minimizing an error or blaming some other individual or set of circumstance. One rule I like is - if you feel comfortable in taking the credit for something that turned out well, then you should be equally comfortable taking the "hit" when it doesn't!
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