“We need to talk”……ensure you are heard as a leader

This week I got a bill from my Accountant – who I’ve had a long term relationship with (nearly 15 years) that got me rather annoyed and frustrated. I had been charged extra for “email advice” on a “range of issues”.  Did that make my blood boil!  Not because I had been charged – I understand they make money from their knowledge and expertise – but history had told me that this advice from time to time was part of building our relationship.   Now since merging with one of the larger firms, I feel the rules have changed. Again, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but where is the communication? At no point has anyone communicated that this ‘casual’ dialogue was in fact being ‘billed’.  If the rules are going to change in any relationship, I am a big believer in setting the expectations upfront about how it is going to be going forward to ensure both parties are clear and there aren’t any grey areas.  Communication is key.

It got reinforced to me when a client said his staff surveys revealed that they still want more communication from the top.  He says this issue comes up every year, yet he feels he communicates all the time!

Communication is a constant issue for all leaders. I clearly remember one of my mentors telling me early in my leadership career – communicate everything or risk others communicating on your behalf. That is, in the absence of information, staff will just assume and make it up.  That’s how gossip starts and ‘poison’ can infect a culture.

As a leader, I learnt to communicate often and share information.  I believe this was one of the key factors in building a high performance culture and trust in my last organisation.  In some recruitment companies, no financial results are shared – team or individual.  This ‘confidential’ information is kept under lock and key and protects those who are potentially having a ‘bad month’ or in non-performance.  I take the opposite approach – share the budget, the goals, the business top line results, individual results including sales leader boards, industry benchmarks – the more information and data the better.  It builds trust, gets buy-in, will explain why some decisions are made and increases performance and accountability.  I felt I could never communicate too much.

Communication starts from the top and the leader sets the tone.  Decide what is and isn’t acceptable, what methods and forums are suitable for what messages and then be consistent.  For example, I’ll never forget the day I received a text message giving me a salary increase! Good news? Sure. Appropriate device?  Probably not given the importance and sensitivity of the message.

Regardless of situation – whether it is in business, our personal lives, or buying a product or service, the key to having a favourable experience is one where the communication is clear, your expectations are met and when you feel you have been heard and responded to.  Perhaps we never master communication perfectly and perhaps we can always improve and get better.  The solution is having awareness and then checking in with our audience to ensure that we are on the right rack and are being perceived correctly. Ask your staff – “are you clear in what we are trying to achieve?” Ask in an interview “does that answer your question, is that what you were looking for?” Ask your support staff “what’s your understanding of my request?” This technique allows you to gain feedback on your delivery and to see if your message has been interpreted correctly.

Communicate often, communicate verbally, communicate expectations and regularly check-in to ensure you are being effective in your delivery.  Communication is rarely perfect – but I can guarantee you can’t be criticised for telling too much, too often or for asking for too much feedback.

“Skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. You can accomplish nothing unless you can communicate effectively.”