Over and over, I explain to struggling leaders that many of their problems begin with their form of communication. Some just scratch their heads and look at me with utter confusion. “I communicate all day long,” one young leader recently shared. “I am attempting to create organizational clarity which can be cascaded deep into the organization. Still, they are just not getting it.” I nod and explain that the more we communicate as leaders, the less we understand.
During the first session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I ask the group to read the article called “The Leader of the Future” by William C. Taylor from the June 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine. In it, Ron Heiftz states, “leaders die with their mouths open.”
Routinely now, I see more and more leaders with their mouths open and their brains on overload. They are running a mile a minute and spouting off a variety of confusing key messages. Their followers just watch it all go by, and then shrug and get back to what ever they were doing. They have learned that soon enough their leader will breeze through again on their way to another meeting, and focus on something completely different.
When leaders are struggling around communication, I often encourage them to pause and ask the following three questions of their direct reports:
- What is going right in our organization?
- What do you care about in our organization on a daily basis?
- What do you do that matters the most?
The key in the first question is to understand how some one views the organization. What we pay attention to influences how we work every day.
The key in the second question is to understand what motivates them at work. On a daily basis, most people care about what they are doing. Our job as a leader is to build off of this foundation and hopefully be able to align this person with the strategy and vision of the organization.
Finally, the key in the last question is to see if the person believes in what they are doing each day. If it is just a job, then you will know it by their answer. If, on the other hand, what they do is in full alignment with the mission of the organization, then you have someone who, with the right leadership actions, can make a world of difference.
Excellent leaders know they need to talk less and listen more on a day to day basis. When they listen to understand before being understood, plus seek the input from different people and honestly value different perspectives, they are creating a powerful work place culture, one that can rise to every challenge.
This week, focus less on talking and more on listening. It will be the start to becoming an exceptional leader.