Ask 10 different people what you need to be a good leader and you’ll get 10 different answers. One person might focus on vision, another may focus on emotional intelligence, and yet another is likely to key in on decision making. Meanwhile, others might assert that you cannot possibly lead well without conflict management or political savvy or negotiation skills. On the surface, the list of leadership skills looks daunting. But as you dig deeper, you’ll find a few skills that I like to call “super skills.” Much like superfruit, super skills deliver multiple benefits across a variety of competencies. Communication is one such super skill. Using your communication skills to help define strategies, goals, and tactics with such clarity and precision that there is no room for misinterpretation is critical to success. In essence, you’re painting a giant bull’s eye that aligns everyone in the same direction regardless of their vantage point.
Imagine trying to shoot an arrow at an unknown target while blindfolded. Your chance of success is low. You might get lucky and hit the mark on the first shot, but it’s much more likely that you’ll miss. In fact, you’re likely to get discouraged and give up before you come close to the target. Yet, this is the environment that is created every day within the workplace: We often shoot at performance targets blindfolded. However, in the workplace, this can be magnified 100, 200, or 1,000 times—depending on the number of employees in the organization. What seems clear and obvious to one person is not at all clear to another looking from a different vantage point. As a result, these employees begin working toward different aims.
For example, suppose I tell someone that I want to go to Columbus. If that person is from the Midwest Region of the United States, they may lead me toward Columbus, Ohio, or Columbus, Indiana. But someone more familiar with the South, may point me toward Columbus, Mississippi or Columbus, Georgia. Those heralding from the Northwest may decide that it’s Columbus, Wisconsin, or Columbus, Minnesota, that I want to reach. Now, I know which Columbus I meant, but I failed to communicate it clearly. I failed to consider that they had a different frame of reference that would cause them to reach a different interpretation.
In this rapidly changing environment, it’s not enough to have good strategy. It’s not enough to have defined goals that align with strategy. It’s not enough to have well thought out tactical plans that align with strategy and goals. Flawless, timely execution is the end game, and that can only happen when everyone aligns around the same target.
So, how do paint that giant bull’s eye through your communications?
Define. Be sure to define what your goals are—and what they are not. Saying your goal is to grow by 10 percent is not sufficient. What constraints need to be observed while meeting that goal? Perhaps, you need to grow by 10 percent while maintaining current customer satisfaction and operational performance levels. Clarifying what the goals do not mean provide the boundaries and parameters that allow for good decision making.
Interpret and apply. Provide everyday application examples. Use familiar situations to explain concepts or terms that are more abstract. For instance, what does it really mean to be customer-oriented when a bill is disputed?
Model. Demonstrate good communication through your own actions. Embody your strategies, goals, and tactics privately and publicly with unwavering consistency. Don’t just use them to weigh your decisions and guide your actions, but also include them in your rationale as to why a particular decision was made. Continue to paint the picture day in and day out.
Capture. Recognize when individuals are exhibiting behaviors, making decisions, and taking actions consistent with your desired objectives. Acknowledge others both privately and publicly.
Coach. Look for opportunities to direct and guide in the moment. Engage in the modern-day version of “walking the halls.” Our digital, virtual world has changed where work occurs and how we interact. We may not meet face-to-face on a regular basis (or at all). However, the basic principle of being actively engaged is the same. One of the most powerful ways that a manager can develop people is to regularly engage them in conversation that probes and challenges their level of understanding and thought processes.
Share. Allow others to share their success stories as they moved toward the mark. Testimonies are powerful. They create connections. They motivate.
Bottom line: In today’s diverse world, communicating with clarity and precision has become even more complex and challenging. It’s vital to communicate so that those belonging to different generations, genders, ethnic groups, and sociocultural systems all get the same message. In other words, use good communication to paint a giant bull’s eye that’s clear to everyone.