In a previous post I began a series on the three deadly sins of poor leadership. My initial article focused on how some leaders fail to move fast enough at replacing poor performers, either for performance or behavioural reasons. This is especially damaging to the CEO or team leader’s credibility, because everyone in the organization knows who is not performing. Keeping poor performing executives is also damaging to the overall culture, sowing the seeds of mistrust and lack of professionalism.
Now, let’s examine the second deadly sin: poor communication, which is both debilitating and insidious—not to mention, far too common.
The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives, says life and business strategist Tony Robbins. Unfortunately, many in leadership positions fail to establish frequent, open, and direct lines of communication with their direct reports and others whom they manage. Instead, they rely on their direct reports to come to them when they need to talk. The fact, though, is that the leader sets the tone. If the leader doesn’t reach out regularly to have open conversations with members of her team, then the team members won’t either.
Consider the example of a senior leader in manufacturing who constantly says, “I’m easy to talk with. If my staff have an issue or a problem, my door is always open.” However, unless he establishes a habit and pattern of regular and open communications with his staff, only a few will take the initiative to engage and discuss issues. Again, if a leader doesn’t reach out and meet one on one with team members on a regular basis, then the team won’t reach back. As a result, communication, open dialogue, transparency, and the flow of information is curtailed. What’s more, respect in leadership tends to erode.
General Colin Powell says it best: “The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.”
I have known many senior executives who are uncomfortable with the leadership obligation of direct, face-to-face conversations and who avoid regular dialogues with their direct reports. Many erroneously believe that communication is up to the other person. They believe, erroneously, that if people need help, they will ask for it. Even worse, in some extreme cases, I know a few leaders who hide behind the excuse of “being too busy” to have face-to-face performance reviews and discussions, opting to send evaluations via email! After working hard all year, how would you feel to receive a performance review from your boss through email? Even if it was an excellent review, wouldn’t you want to discuss it face to face? To probe more deeply and learn more?
One of the key obligations of effective leadership is to develop a culture of frequent, direct, open, and two-way communication. My grandmother gave me some great advice about effective communications: “The good lord gave you two ears and one mouth and expects you to use them in that proportion!” In other words, one of the major keys to successful leadership is listening. Listen early, listen long, listen hard, and listen for what is not being said. Not everyone comes right out and states the real issue or problem. More often than not people tend to only hint at the real problem. So, if a leader is not listening closely to the message (not just the words), she will likely miss the real issues being shared—and the opportunities.