The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

My assessment about communication is this – Do it. Always. It is that simple. And, by communicating always, I mean to all stakeholders.

Many years ago, whilst in a job interview, I remember being asked how I would handle a specific situation. I gave an example and described how I had handled it. The interviewer responded with “That’s great! Ultimately, it’s all about communication! Without communication, there is no leadership”.

I have thought about this comment many times since that day and one observation that I will make is that, in workplaces where I have felt that leadership was poor, there appeared to be no effective communication. I haven’t quite worked out whether the converse is completely true. However, my assessment is that this interviewer was on to something – as a leader, communication is paramount.

There are methodologies and techniques available for communicating in various situations – be it a difficult conversation, a performance management discussion, regular daily communication, etc. However, my feeling is that the following are can be applied generally to most communication:

  • Have the missing conversation. What do I mean by this? Well, it is simple. Don’t just assume something without making the effort to find out the real story, from multiple sides if appropriate. Don’t allow people to get away with poor behaviour through fear of saying “the wrong thing” to them. Provide feedback to people, whether positive or otherwise. Make it constructive, but don’t be afraid to say it. Ensure that all stakeholders know about the change in direction. If there is a conversation to be had, the best way to demonstrate leadership is to have it. So many issues could be avoided in the workplace if people committed to having necessary conversations.
  • Make clear requests to individuals and/or teams, and ensure that their commitment to deliver (according to agreed standards, timeframe, outcome, etc) has been received. Confirm this, don’t assume it.
  • Leave all parties feeling respected and valued. It doesn’t matter what the conversation is about, leaving people feeling respected and valued is important.
  • Communicate direction, requirements and issues promptly.
  • Tailor communication to the appropriate audience.
  • If unsure as to how to present a message, try to picture yourself in the shoes of the recipient. How could the message be delivered to you in a way that would serve you?
  • Remember that remote team members may require additional effort in communication. They don’t always get to receive the “water cooler” conversations that people who work in the same office do, so it is even more important to ensure that they feel included, valued, respected and supported.

Communication in everything is key but, in leadership, it is essential. Be sure to have the missing conversations, and be sure to try and understand the perspective of all parties.

How is your current communication style serving you?

How’s that Ego?

True leaders understand that leadership is not about them but about those they serve. It is not about exalting themselves but about lifting others up.

Sheri L. Dew

I remember when I first accepted a management position. I naively thought that having the word “manager” in my title would help me to achieve results. I considered team successes to be my doing and, well, I had an ego.

But an ego is fine, right? There is nothing wrong with a little self-confidence…

Good try, but ego and self-confidence are two very different concepts. Ego is about self-interest. Self-confidence is about believing in ourselves, and having faith in our own abilities. It is possible to have one and not the other. Because ego is about self-interest, it can result in bad behaviour. This article explains the difference very well.

A leader who is prepared to forgo self-interest is a leader who has every chance of serving their team and working towards great results. The reason for this is that everything starts to become about the team and the outcomes, rather than the leader. This opens up a whole new world of decision making, and a whole new view of the world.

I remember one day a few years ago, one of the most senior leaders on the account that I was working on instructed my team to complete some work that fell within the scope of another team. I advised this leader that it was still under the control of that team, but offered to provide assistance if required. My team was funded for specific tasks, so focussing on this task would remove them from a funded task on to one that, under our contract, we would not receive revenue. It would also place our funded tasks at risk. Additionally, only the other team had the authorisations and access required to complete the requested task. The response from this leader was “You mark my words. Your team WILL be doing this, and they WILL have this done by the end of the day, or else!”

In my assessment, this is an example of ego. An agreement had been made between this leader and the client that my team would do this. The leader had made the agreement without an understanding of what was involved, and with no consultation with the appropriate teams. Instead of realising their error and learning from it, the leader responded to the professional opinion of the team by becoming defensive and making it about them and how they felt. This behaviour was not enabling my team or the organisation to succeed. In my assessment, it set the team up to fail, because it meant that they had to re-direct their focus from funded activities in order to get something working over which they had absolutely no control and no authority to do so. This is not serving the team.

It is great to have self-confidence, but don’t confuse it with ego. Keep the self-confidence; you’ll need it. However, perhaps it is worth looking at how ego serves you. Leadership is not about receiving personal accolades. It is not about you at all. It is about serving a team in a way that ensures that team is empowered to be the best that they can be. It is about focussing on outcomes. My feeling is that, in the example above, a leader who could manage their ego would have worked with me to determine the best outcome for the team and the client. They would not have let their ego get in the way of an outcome. They would have approached the team and arrived at a solution (based on the professional recommendations of the team) before committing to the client.

A colleague for whom I have a significant amount of respect once explained this to me very well, albeit in a manner that was neither politically correct nor eloquent. He said “There is no I in team, but there is one in d*ckhead. Be a team, not a d*ckhead.”

Check your ego. How is it serving you?

Be Prepared to Give Someone the Chance to be Helpful

Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.

Ric Ocasek

Asking for help can be frightening and challenging, and maybe even slightly damaging to the ego. My suggestion is to ask for help anyway, then celebrate that you were not only able to identify that help would be useful, you were able to ask for it as well. That’s huge!

I have had a number of occasions over the years when I have identified that help would be useful and I have had great outcomes as a result of asking for and accepting that help. I have also a number of times where I didn’t identify that help would have been useful, and the outcome wasn’t great.

For me, asking for help does not come naturally. I have really had to work at it. Losing some ego helped. Realising that I am respect worthy also helped significantly. For, if I am respect worthy, then I am worthy of respect for realising that asking for help will serve me. I won’t judge myself for it; I will respect myself for it.

I currently work in a very supportive workplace, where people will drop everything to help a colleague. It is a very healthy culture, and it is wonderful. But, even in a wonderful culture like this one, it is important to remember that you may still have to ask for help. People are focussing on their own issues and, as genuine and willing as they may be, they just may not notice that you are struggling. Or, they might think that you are coping fine without them. Or, they might think that you just don’t want help. Have the missing conversation with them, and tell them what you need. They will respect you for it and, you may also respect yourself for it. So many times over the years, I have kept trying and kept trying until things have got completely out of hand, and I have realised that if I had just asked for help, the outcome may have been different.

One occasion on which I did identify that I wanted help was a couple of years ago, when in a very challenging leadership role. It was a brand new programme, with processes not really in place, and a culture that wasn’t conducive to outcomes. My assessment is that the programme leadership was not at its best, and I felt that my own leadership was starting to suffer as a result. My self doubt increased, and I identified that I wasn’t heading in a direction that was going to work for me. I made the decision to seek help in the form of executive coaching. It was tough to admit to someone that I didn’t have all of the answers, and it was tough realising that some of my behaviours weren’t serving me well as a leader. However, this became one of the biggest learning moments of my career, and helped to steer me in a direction that worked for me. Asking for help can have fantastic results and, on this occasion, it did for me!

Your request for help may be for a single, specific situation; it may be for a single skill that you would like to develop; or, like me, it may result in a huge overhaul of how you are being as a leader. Whatever it is, though, always be willing to give someone the chance to be helpful. And, when you have done that, remember to congratulate yourself for doing so.

Bringing Out the Best in People

“In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, nor princes like princes, but all persons like persons”

James MacGregor Burns

In my opinion, leaders have one main role, and that is to bring out the best in their people in order to achieve organisational outcomes.

Right, so, how do we do that?
There are many different ways of working to get what we want as leaders, and many different methodologies, techniques and systems to help us to succeed. However, to bring the best out in people, I have one rule that I refuse to break: Treat the people like people.

This may seem obvious to you and, if it does, then that is great. However, believe me when I say that the obvious isn’t always obvious to everyone.

I once worked in an organisation where the entire senior leadership team believed that it was appropriate to thump fists on desks, yell and swear at people, and over-rule people constantly. Professional opinions were ignored rather than valued, people were expected to work incredibly long hours, and were not trusted to organise their own time. The leadership team was totally perplexed when they did not get the results from the teams that they required. No, really, they were perplexed. I, however, still cannot reconcile how bullying and blaming people could ever be considered as treating people like people.

Ok, so how do we treat people like people?
My way of figuring out how to treat people like people is to ask myself how I would like to be treated. After all, I am a “people”, so there must be something useful in that, right? For example, I don’t like my professional opinion to be ignored; I don’t like feeling disrespected; and I don’t like people making assumptions about me without first asking for my version of events. I can use all of this to shape how I engage other people – that is, I can aim to respect them, value their opinions, and always remember to ask them for their take on events before I make an assumption about their behaviour.

It might well be that the details of how I show respect are slightly different for each individual in my team. That is where my knowledge of each  individual, and my awareness of my own behaviours, come into play. But understanding how people generally like to be treated is a good place to start. If the leaders in my example above had understood that, they could have made use of some exceptional skills and knowledge to achieve some amazing results. Instead, they created poor morale, broken people, and huge staff attrition rates.

So ask yourself how you would like to be treated, and treat people like people.