Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Effective Leaders Encourage Communication

Giving the odd order isn’t enough.  Expecting people to guess, understand or deduce what you want won’t work.  People need to know what’s going on, why it should be happening and to be able to raise suggestions and concerns.

Just as the human body can’t survive in a vacuum, there are few who can survive in a corporate communication vacuum.  Three bricklayers were once asked, “What are you doing?”

The first answered “I’m laying bricks.”

The second replied, “I’m building a wall.”

The third response was, “I’m building someone’s dream home.”

This may sound familiar, but it’s worth stressing that only one third of the team actually knew why they were doing what they did and what the end result was supposed to be.  Who had the clearest vision that would help them in doing the best job that they could?

All too often, I see teams and even individuals working in “silos” - completely cut off from what else is going on in the business along with any understanding of the bigger picture.  In large organisations, this can’t always be avoided, but at the very least, they should have an idea of their immediate environment. 

The usual excuses are:
  • It’s not the done thing to talk to others;
  • If we ask questions, we’re shouted down, laughed at or told to stop wasting time;
  • We’re too busy to hold team meetings;
  • It’s a waste of time;
  • It just ends up with the boss giving a monologue;
  • We all know what’s going on anyway.
 The above are all typical of an organisation where communicating is discouraged and information is viewed as power.  In today’s business world, not having the right information at the right time could mean the difference between corporate survival and oblivion.  On an individual level, employees who feel left out of the loop:
  • Are demotivated;
  • Are less productive as a result;
  • Can suffer from feelings of ostracism and neglect;
  • Will generally head for the exit the first chance they get.
An effective leader:
  • Builds trust amongst all team members;
  • Encourages openness and constructive conflict;
  • Speaks individually to team members to see how they perceive what's going on and how they’re feeling.
When it comes to the dreaded “Team Meeting”, an effective leader:
  • Circulates the agenda beforehand to attendees and asks for their input;
  • Holds regular (short) team briefings which follow the agenda;
  • Gives people a chance to have their say openly and honestly without fear of reprisal;
  • Allows people not to speak if they have nothing constructive to say;
  • Designates people responsible for action, holds them accountable and provides the support needed;
  • Treats “Any Other Business” as items for the next meeting agenda.

The leader who says “everyone knows what’s going on" is fooling only him (or her) self.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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