If a leader can not hear the message given by their staff / followers how can they hope to inspire those same people to action? Consider how you feel if you do not feel heard? Are you more or less likely to put extra effort in?
Most people respond best when they feel that their view matters, when they feel a part of something. Most people are likely to listen more when they feel they themselves are valued enough to be listened to.
I suggest that listening effectively is more important than being able to speak eloquently. After all we have two ears and only one mouth don't we?
From the very first moment leaders must pay attention to every communication and opportunity for sharing their passion and vision. They must communicate effectively, so they can inspire others to come aboard. They must speak honestly and in ways that reveal their personal character and genuine connection. Yet, this sort of communication style can be difficult and time consuming – especially when demands are huge and time is scarce.
There is far more to being an effective and authentic communicator than most leaders believe -- at least when they are starting out. Even if you think you’re good at speaking to your team and motivating them, there’s always more to learn.
Leadership communication is a discipline and a practice: The more time, effort and heart you put in, the more effective you become. There really are no shortcuts.
Here are a few tips and ideas that can help you focus your attention and improve your leadership communication.
1. Be authentic.
When you speak with your employees you must come across to them as real. This means sharing your beliefs and your struggles. Talking about moments of doubt but also explaining how you overcame them with more conviction and confidence than ever. Or perhaps share a story or two about a failure and disappointment in life.
My most convincing talks at Unilever were when I shared stories about my personal weaknesses and what I was doing to overcome them or my disappointments and failures and how I turned them around.
2. Employ active listening skills.
Listening is not something that happens automatically, we may hear the words but do we understand the meaning? When a team member is talking make sure they have your full attention, avoid the pitfall of worrying more about what you will say in response and as a result miss the true meaning of the message.
3. Know yourself.
Dig deep. Know your values and what motivates you. If you don’t know yourself you cannot share or connect with others. People want to know what makes you tick as a human being not just as a leader. Share this and make yourself real.
4. Make values visible.
Effective, empathetic communication and a commitment to culture can provide a solid foundation for your ideas and contribute to making it a reality. Many of today’s most successful companies have gone through dramatic crises. Their improvements often hinged upon genuine communication from the leaders.
Your employees want to know what you and the company stands for. What is the litmus test for everything you do? These are your values. Talk about them but you must always be sure to “walk the talk” and live by them.
5. Rely on a good coach or a trusted adviser.
Developing good communication skills takes time -- and in the rush of business, that’s scarce. Having someone who can push you to examine and reveal your interests and passions is enormously helpful and the value is immeasurable.
6. Read up on leadership communication.
If you can’t hire a coach, read all that you can. I consider Terry Pearce’s best-selling book Leading Out Loud to be the bible on this subject, and assign it to all my students.
7. Avoid the "me" trap.
It's not all about you. Leaders who spend all their time talking about themselves and their experiences expecting others to blindly follow along are on a road to nowhere. People are more likely to act and put that extra effort in if they feel they belong, they are an important part of the whole and are recognised as such.
8. Stories sell
If you want to make a point and convince people, you can't rely on facts and figures alone. It’s stories that people remember. The personal experiences and stories you share with others create emotional engagement, decrease resistance and give meaning. It is meaning that gets employees' hearts and fuels discretionary effort, thinking and desire to actively support the business.
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