If I were learning to play golf and my instructor told me that I had to have a good swing – but failed to tell me how to improve it – what good would that be? Or if I were practising for water polo and I was told that swimming was an integral part of the game – but no-one told me how to swim – would that be helpful?
The obvious answer is “Of course not!” – and yet there is one aspect of leadership which is vitally important to success, and which we are told is very necessary – but is often not further discussed. So while we know that good leaders demonstrate competence in this area we are not informed how to actually achieve that competency – so what good is that?
What is the subject? – it’s communication. We are told that good leaders are good communicators; but we are not given instruction how we can become good communicators. When discussing the attributes of effective leadership – it’s there again; right at the top – “Good communication skills” – but are we told how to achieve them? Not very often.
Perhaps it’s because that we believe that we have been communicating since early childhood. But talking is not communicating in a business sense; conversation builds relationships, but does little to foster good leadership skills. Yet, while we spend a lot of time discussing and teaching leadership styles – what they are, how they can be applied and when they are appropriate, we fail to mention that there are communication styles which can also be applied and are sometimes not appropriate.
We just keep repeating the mantra “Good Leaders are good communicators” and hope for the best. However, I can tell you from personal experience that there are very few CEO’s, or upper and middle managers who believe they have poor communication skills – even when they do. They are far more likely to believe that it’s the others who have the problem!
In a recent survey a majority of business leaders complacently believed that they were communicating their direction clearly to their staff – and yet those very same employees complained that they were not being told what was going on!
Even when faced with such clear information, the leaders still believe that the problem lay elsewhere. “Well, we tell them what’s happening” said one, firmly appearing to believe that problem was not with them but with the staff.
So let me re-iterate one of the simple truths that we teach – communication is the responsibility of those starting the process. Not with the listeners, but with the speakers. If your listeners do not understand your message, it’s your fault not theirs. You have not constructed your information correctly; you have not used logical sequencing and you have not considered if you have applied the correct communication style.
In short, you have failed the communication test of leadership.
When something is given lip service as being one of the major factors in, and attribute of leadership but is not explained fully; when leaders are not taught the basic principles of communication, or the simple techniques that will improve their personal competency then it is not surprising that many of our major leaders fail the test.
With instant ways of communicating becoming more mainstream there are even more ways of getting it wrong. Emails, texting, msn, twitter and other similar electronic devices to enhance our ability to communicate are as nothing if our understanding of what communication is and how it should be used is limited. All it achieves is even quicker misunderstandings – and what good is that!!
Communication – the essential aspect of leadership which is usually overlooked – with devastating results. How’s yours? I bet you think it is fine – but have you ever asked those you communicate with how good you are? It might be a worrying exercise; remember statistically the majority of industry leaders believe their communication skills are excellent – unfortunately, their listeners disagree.
I probably would too!!
Michele @ Trischel