Communication can be tough. Yes, especially in this “Zoom World” we are currently living in. Leading a team that is primarily remote or even occasionally remote has unique challenges in all aspects of leadership but communicating effectively certainly leads the list.
As we all know, communication is at the heart of all things when it comes to leadership. If a leader struggles with communication, they will struggle with everything. You can’t train, teach, set expectations and priorities, create accountability, or build a culture of commitment and action if you are a poor communicator.
I think we can all agree that effective communication skills form the foundation of winning leadership, but what is puzzling is how education, training, and coaching fails, in many regards, to teach young leaders how to be really great at it. Often, we focus on the tactical elements of the job, but turn a blind eye to this critical soft skill.
In our book, “Gapology: How Winning Leaders Close Performance Gaps,” we share key methods to plan and execute with powerful communication techniques that really work. These methods have been tested time and time again, and have been shared with leaders from a multitude of industries.
There is a bias out there at all levels of leadership that causes a huge blind spot in identifying and closing Performance Gaps. Many leaders consciously or unconsciously think and act with the belief that Performance Gaps happen as a result of the team not taking action on something that they’ve asked them to do. And while this is true in many regards, the real truth lies at the feet of the leader. Most Performance Gaps are the real outcome of ineffective leadership behavior.
We need to begin by looking in the mirror.
If the team has a Knowledge Gap, who owns that? The leader owns it. If a team doesn’t know what to do or how to do it, the leader needs to take ownership.
How about the Importance Gap? The leader owns this as well. If a team doesn’t know why or when something needs to be done, the leader needs to take ownership here as well.
And how about the Action Gap? If the team isn’t making the choice to take action, they certainly own a portion of that, but the leader needs to own creating a culture of accountability, commitment, and action.
So, how can leaders improve here? There are many tactical things we can do and here are a few we layout in Gapology:
Asking vs. Telling: When leading your team, start by asking questions. This causes additional thinking and insight that helps your team to learn, grow, and become more independent. If you only give the answers by “telling” them what to do, you will create a “command” culture where they will only wait for you to provide direction.
Analog or Digital?: Intentionally determine the best method of communication, rather than choosing the easiest. Based on the message you need to deliver, your team may be better served with a face-to-face conversation or phone call rather than an email or text. Or vice versa, perhaps you can skip that face-to-face meeting if all you are delivering is data and simply send out the information in an email.
Establish a well-known rhythm to your meetings: Contrary to popular belief, meetings aren’t effective just because they happen. Have an agenda, objectives, call-to-action, post-meeting assignments, and ensure you follow up. Build random recaps into them to validate understanding and gauge commitment. And build in a level of storytelling to explain the “why’s” and grow the emotional connection to your message. This includes virtual meetings!
Set and clarify expectations and priorities: Pick the right things that will deliver your purpose. And then build accountability around them. Everything should be clear and simple.
Create an open environment: An open-door policy has nothing to do with your physical door. In a virtual world, you don’t have one anyway! An open environment means that you are proactively reaching out and encouraging free communication with your team. Avoid the natural behavior to instantly react to what is being shared, but instead, simply listen with empathy, ask probing questions to clarify the message, and thank them for sharing. You will learn more by doing this than any focus group would ever produce.
And finally… to truly close your team’s Performance Gaps, you MUST start by closing your own. Don’t wait for someone to bring them to your attention, seek them out. Intentionally and proactively look for them and then work to close them.
Seek to close the Knowledge Gap. First, seek to close your own and then theirs. Ask, “What do I need to know and be able to do?” Then ask, “What do they need to know and be able to do?”
Seek to close the Importance Gap. Again, first seek to close your own and then theirs. Ask, “Why does it matter to me?” Then ask, “Why does it matter to them?”
Seek to close the Action Gap. And finally, again start with your own and then theirs. Ask, “What do I need to do?” Then ask, “What do they need to do?”
Your gaps will drive their gaps. But your behaviors to identify and close them will do the same for them as well!
Listen to our discussion on this topic on our podcast, Gapology Radio! https://www.gapology.org/podcast/episode/1d5a2ef6/improving-communication