Communication is most likely the single skill to build if you want to be an effective leader. Without excellent communication skills you will struggle with everything. Interviewing, hiring, training, coaching, motivating, and even providing basic expectations will suffer without this most basic of skills. If you are going to spend time and money learning one thing, start here and make it part of your personal and professional brand.
With that said, it is extremely important to note that communication is never a one-way street. Effective communication blends both delivering and receiving messages…so you must spend time learning how to speak… but also how to listen. When listening, seek to understand, not to reply. If you don’t understand, ask probing questions until you do. That will show that you are focused on what is being said and that you truly are engaged with them. And when focusing on improving team engagement, these elements will have dramatic impact on your effectiveness.
So how do we go about building communication strategies that really work? Let’s start with looking at how we deliver messages first. In Gapology we talk about our key method of communication that we found most impactful in closing gaps.
Tell them what they need to know. In every interaction, we do this. This is the area that leaders typically feel most comfortable. This element closes the Knowledge Gap.
Tell them why it matters. This is the part that is often skipped over, leaving the team wondering why they need to listen or take action. This element closes the Importance Gap.
Tell them what they need to do. This is where action is created and clarity of behavioral expectations takes place. This element closes the Action Gap.
It is critical that leaders complete all element here in order to deliver a solid message that moves a team to action, but communication must not stop here. At this point they need to get feedback in order to ensure understanding and agreement, respond to questions, and hear concerns. This is where two-way communication comes into play and often leaders skip over this step and assume that the team will simply put into action everything they’ve instructed.
Part of any effective leadership rhythm is a strategy for formal two-way communication. These formal methods will ensure adequate time is dedicated to it and focuses a leader and their team on hearing and understanding what each other has to say.
We recommend building your formal rhythm with these steps in mind:
Plan time. Block time on your calendar with a recurring appointment for two-way dialogue.
Plan structure. Each party must be prepared to communicate. Plan out what you want to say using the communication methods described above. Send out an agenda that is designed to create action beforehand, so they know what will be discussed, and then instruct your team to come to the meeting with specific successes to share, and specific things they are struggling with. Set an expectation for the sharing of both. Giving them time to prepare will enhance their performance and build their confidence and competence in communicating.
Plan response. Post-meeting, you should spend time planning how you will respond to what is shared, including how you will update them on your progress for anything you’ve agreed to do. They will want to know that you are taking action on any commitments you’ve made.
As you can see, this strategy all begins with “Plan.” You must plan for your communication. Build your personal and professional brand around it. If you don’t, you won’t focus on it and it won’t happen… or it will only happen randomly. Your team needs to see you as a strong communicator, one who delivers powerful messages, clear expectations, and celebrates wins publicly. But they also need to see you as someone who listens to them genuinely and takes action on their concerns.
Start this week. Look at your calendar. Block time to communicate. Plan it all out and you will dramatically improve communication and overall engagement.