Updated: Jan 27, 2021
I don’t think I’ll break the internet with the claim that communication is a large part of being a leader. The taglines on resumes, claims in interviews, etc. are example enough. We get it, you communicate. What I’m interested in is how you communicate. When you are leading, the details of your communication can make all the difference. How often are you communicating with key members of your team? With the whole team? Via what platform? Face to face? Call or text? How do you pass along important information and directions? What language are you using? What language are your team members using? If you’re reading this and thinking “relax, I tell people what they need to know.” Or “I’m old school, we do face to face all the time.” I challenge you to think deeper and really analyze your communication tendencies and how they affect your organization.
Your language is part of your culture. If you embrace this, it can be a powerful weapon to fight negativity and adversity which are guaranteed to come. How your team members communicate with each other creates the atmosphere which in turn punishes or rewards behaviors accordingly. Here’s the key part for you; how your team communicates is generally a reflection of your interactions with your top leaders. Notice a trend here? Leaders set the standard which outlines the behaviors which in turn dictate the culture. Dismissive behavior from you will show up in your teams’ interactions. As the old saying goes, shit rolls downhill. Think about this next time you rush a conversation or find yourself checking emails while someone on your team talks.
Feedback is a crucial part of the communication process, but it can be difficult for young leaders. Critical feedback is a necessity and must be given by leadership and teammates. Here’s the key takeaway. It must be given in a manner that is appropriate and within the guidelines of team roles and expectations. In other words, embracing feedback does not open the door for incessant complaining or give everyone the right to an opinion on every matter. When giving feedback, it is important to make the message clear, concise, and follow it with an opportunity to build a plan to improve. Although some are still a fan of the compliment sandwich, I advocate for the band-aid approach. Say what you mean, back it with facts, then reconnect the relationship by allowing room for discussion on improving the issue (if appropriate). Notice this is in the case of feedback, not in the case of a firing or demotion decision. Those must be clear cut with no room for miscommunication. If you are looking to address a performance issue, why wouldn’t you want to end the conversation by offering resources or skills that will help that team member improve? If you call someone in the office, tell them they suck at rebounding, then offer no plan or discussion on how to improve it, you are not leading, you are bullying.
Communication includes both leadership and team reactions to shows of vulnerability as well. Are you creating an environment that allows people to be themselves and be human? Does your team pick each other up when a teammate needs help or scoff at them for being “soft” or “dumb” for putting that new idea out? The latter is a cancerous behavior and will quickly erode the culture of your team. Encouraging vulnerability creates a culture that fosters new ideas, and removes the fear of failure which cripples so many teams. This can all be influenced by the communication used within your group. Make the expectations clear. We embrace risk takers (within reason), we embrace new ideas, we embrace challenges.
Leadership Reflection Questions: Communication
1. How often am I giving critical feedback to team members?
2. What language is prevalent in our culture? Positivity, negativity, cynicism, etc.
3. What is our team’s response to positive failure?
4. How do we respond to feedback?
5. How often are people bringing new ideas to the table or taking risks?
The end goal with communication is to create a language within your culture that becomes exclusive to your culture. This is the way we do things. Celebrate vulnerability, we challenge the status quo, and we value feedback. Those things alone can go a long way in creating the communication style that will positively impact behaviors within the culture. Your language and delivery methods will set your team apart either positively of negatively. It starts with you, so make the call.