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Anyone who has been in the business world for a period of time is bound to have worked with or for a manager, department head, middle manager or c-suite exec. Most of these leaders were hired or promoted into positions based on their education and experience in a given field. While some have leadership experience, the vast majority are just people who were experienced and adept at doing a job and then got promoted to lead a team doing that job. Think of the Registered Nurse who is promoted to Head Nurse or the Attorney who is chosen Managing Partner of a law firm. That nurse might have been highly skilled and qualified healthcare professional who never took a single leadership or management course in her life. And that attorney might have been a rainmaker who was highly skilled at bringing in clients, winning cases and generating revenue, but had never managed anyone other than a paralegal or secretary. The thought behind such promotions is that those who can do a job well can manage people doing that job. It implies that leading and managing people requires the same skills used to handle projects, schedules or tasks.
Leaders who gain the position by chance or circumstance often learn how to lead the hard way… through trial and error. They don’t know what to do or say in that role. While knowing what to do may seem important, knowing what to say is also key. According to past U.S. President Ronald Reagan, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.” That means leadership requires the ability to persuade hearts, provide purpose and provoke action, and that requires communication. Communication is a critically important part of leadership.
Indeed, real leadership is a contact sport so being able to communicate is where minds connect and engage. When done right, leadership involves working with people one-on-one. That can be both time-consuming and a little messy. However, for an organization to be successful, it needs strong leaders willing to spend the time communicating, able to handle messes, and ready to take an active role and interest in everyone in the team. Think “people person” on steroids.
However, the best leaders then back up their words with action, leading by example. They are forward-looking, sharing what success looks like for the team. They explain how individual goals tie back to key initiatives the team is responsible for achieving so everyone is motivated to contribute. They not only speak but also listen, which shows team members that they really care. They don’t just have a so-called “open door policy” but are actually available to dialogue if/when direct reports walk through the door.
Real leaders forget about themselves and instinctively react in the best interests of the individuals on the team and the best interests of the team. To do that requires knowing and sincerely caring about each person on the team. And that requires dialogue and genuine interest in others. When a team member does well, a great leader will cheer and reward that person. And if a direct report should fall short of a goal, a great leader feels he too has fallen short because he knows each person on the team personally. He assigned responsibilities and projects in line with their strengths and who they worked with best. All of that direction, accountability and connection demands clear, consistent and concise communication.
However, far too many leaders are either silent or reluctant to speak with direct reports. Instead, they use people and tools to speak for them. This is the individual who sits in a spacious office and has a big title, but leads through emails, committees and senior leadership edict. They mistake chain-of-commanding for leadership. In that way, a silent leader is no better than a micro manager or a toxic boss in that he doesn’t inspire people to follow. A mute leader will not b trusted because he has not taken the time or put forth the effort to build relationships with his direct reports.
From Behind the Scenes to the Front of the Pack
So how does a leader go from being behind the scenes to being the powerful voice that leads the pack? To become effective, non-communicative leaders must be a lot more present and begin to use their voices to uplift and encourage. By vocalizing a positive outlook and sharing a vision for what will be, leaders can spur productivity, eliminate drama and fuel enthusiasm at Zoom meetings and Board rooms. But all of that communication takes time. If a company has overly lean staffing and a culture of overworking without complaint, then it is impossible for leaders to spend the time needed to say what needs to be said. Indeed, the very essence of leadership is to not only have a vision, but that the vision is articulated clearly and forcefully at every occasion.
LeaderSpeak is the language of great leaders. Here are eight things great leaders say.
- Let me share what’s happening.
When there is a lot of change or uncertainty, employees at every level want to be “in the know”. Being in the dark creates uneasiness. If they aren’t told what is happening, they will either figure it out, guess or manufacture a story. Understanding what is happening is key to making team members feel committed and connected to the vision and mission. For examples, leaders that are actively communicating the company’s plans to staff during the pandemic are more likely to have employees who are willing to sacrifice and be flexible to get through the crisis.
- Remember our values.
Knowing the company’s values and sharing those on a regular basis ensures that people make good decisions in line with the organization’s direction and goals. Values have to be shared and shared again. Then when direct reports are making decisions, those values will be so ingrained that it will trickle into the decision-making process.
- You can count on me.
Employees want to know that their boss has their back. Great leaders let their direct reports know that they can be trusted not only to tell the truth and share information, but also to have the best interests of both employees and the organization at heart. In order for employees to step up and deliver their A-Game, they need to feel that the leadership is trustworthy and honorable. It is up to leaders to speak truth transparently.
- You are valued and needed. Job well done.
For direct reports to go above and beyond and really “own their work”, they must feel that they are a valuable part of the team and that they are needed. Great leaders will praise employees early and often. And it will be meaningful, specific praise, not just generic words like “great job”.
- I trust you.
Trust is not just something a leader says to direct reports, although those words are always welcome. It is also something a leader demonstrates by empowering employees to make decisions and take responsibility to deliver results that hit goals and align with the vision and mission. If a leader cannot trust his direct reports, then they should be on the team in the first place.
- I believe in you. You can do it!
Each direct report wants to know not only that they are trusted and valued, but that their boss or leader believes in their abilities and talents. When a person is hired, they are made to feel that they have skills, and are able to do good work for the company. This empowers people to do their best. But over time, that feeling can be forgotten. It is important for leaders to encourage their direct reports that they have what it takes to get the job done.
- I’m listening. Tell me more.
A great leader wants to hear what employees think and recommend. Direct reports are able to see the challenges and problems of an organization often better than the leaders, and are in a position to spot solutions others may miss. Being able to set ego aside and listen to other voices is an important part of leadership. Great leaders not only are great communicators, but they also know when to stop speaking and start listening.
- How can I help? What do you need?
A great leader knows when to answer questions, and when to simply ask “what do you need?” A leader is supposed to provide the support and resources to ensure that a job can get done. That begins by asking about impediments and obstacles.
Leaders, start speaking. There’s a lot to say.
Quote of the Week
“The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Kenneth Blanchard
© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.