Sunday, 25 October 2015

No Cape Needed - how to improve leadership comms

Through interactive infographics, inspiring tips and advice from CEOs, lists for easy reading and quick references, David Grossman's new book 'No Cape Needed' becomes an enjoyable and useful read for internal communicators and business leaders alike.

From the start, and in simple, plain language, Grossman describes the criticality of communication when it comes to leading:

"You can use communication for high impact by coaching and mentoring someone, by influencing others who may be tentative or uncomfortable in a new role, or by helping develop a young person to be his or her best self.

"In the same way, you prevent the skeptics and naysayers from spiralling into a negative pattern, or help a struggling individual find the courage and the map to make real change. Lastly, you can use communication to make substantial changes that aren't just about helping a company or team go from "good to great" but instead create a lasting legacy through a new strategic direction."

But, Grossman does stop there. He guides you on how to become a better communicator regardless of whether you manage people or not. What is particularly interesting about this is that everyone needs to be ready to lead when a particular situation requires. And that means everyone needs to be ready to communicate effectively too.

I have selected some of the points that the author makes and that I believe are worth repeating.

Be yourself 

To command respect, the author claims, an individual doesn't have to be the most vocal person in the room. "Instead, be yourself and know your leadership style. Understanding yourself can help you maximize your effectiveness, while staying true to your values and approach. A goal to strive for is to show up more as who you are in the workplace."

Indeed, it can be tempting at times to try to use a style that we admire in others. However, we may end up wasting our time if our approach does not reflect who we are since our colleagues and teams will not respond positively when they know we have not been authentic. A good application of this point is with the extroversion versus introversion debate. There is not such a thing as one style better than the other. "Each style can be highly effective...Introverts take notice and increase the frequency of your communications; extroverts work to improve the quality of what you communicate."

Set the context 

Another point that Grossman concisely elucidates is that "without context, there's no meaning." An easy way to confuse people is by jumping into a message without helping them understand where it comes from.

It is important to realise that every one of us comes into the workplace with our own context - a blend of our culture, the way we were raised as children, experiences, education and more. This context influences how we interpret information every day. That is why part of the role of leadership and communication is to create a common understanding of context. "For example," writes the author, "how do we view the current business situation we're in, and why does the plan just developed make sense? Setting context might involve talking about our current results and management expectations, new customer requirements, and data...all of which help us understand the current situation, or in other words, the 'why' behind the plan."

However, what I particularly appreciate about Grossman's advice is his sensitivity in going back repeatedly to a basic fundamental: knowing your employees.

Know your audience

"To truly move employees to action, we have to know what they care about and get into their mindset."

In truth, we have heard this sentence again and again. Yet, we might find ourselves spending much of our time and efforts setting business objectives and developing plans to achieve them. Absolutely nothing wrong with that; it's critical for the company's success! But, as Grossman puts it, "the most important element behind everything is your team. If they do not understand where they fit in, all of our lofty goals will go nowhere."

Often this means stop assuming that we already know the people around us and their needs. It may require pausing and imagining how they feel, and at the same time gathering information that could be useful to motivate them.

And, sometimes it is the small actions that make the biggest difference. It could be acknowledging critical milestones that are important to people, say 'thank you' for a job well done, find out and remember what they are passionate about, or celebrate their birthdays.

It all comes down to making people feel valued and good about themselves and what they do. Cited in the book is Laura Nashman, Chief Executive Officer at the British Columbia Pension Corporation, who brings in the most suitable piece of advice:

"We all thrive when we feel confident, competent and valued. When what we do is acknowledged. When we are recognised for the contribution made. When our humanity is respected, and we are welcomed and embraced for who we are and what we uniquely bring to the table. And when dignity is above all the most valued purpose.

"As a leader, your voice is powerful - it has the power to ignite and engage in the most positive and productive ways. Our power as leaders can also erode confidence in others, leaving them feeling empty, lost and demotivated. Recognize the power you have and use it for good."

Let employees get to know you

So, it is critical to know and understand employees in order to create an emotional connection with them. But it is equally important to help them know and understand you as a leader. One of the best ways of doing it is by sharing stories and connecting on a personal level. And Grossman shares some interesting questions for leaders to think about:

Which of your life experiences can serve as inspiration for your employees?

What can you share that makes you vulnerable and relatable? For example, what was your first carer experience?

What mistakes have you made that helped you become a better leader?

What can you share that personally connects you to your company's vision and your team?

Ultimately, it is about allowing your colleagues to see you as a real person. "People want to know who you are before they will listen to what you have to say. And for new leaders, all stakeholders wonder, 'Who is this person? And why should I believe and follow them?' With all the slides and facts and figures, charts and graphs, commitments, acronyms and videos, it's the stories that people remember and value."

Conclusions

The book is filled in with plenty of further insights. If you want to explore the nature of leadership communication in a simple way, then 'No Cape Needed' is the perfect companion for you. The visual format and friendly tone of voice make this 294-page manual an easy and memorable read. Chapters also include an investigation into social media and the remote workforce, as well as an email etiquette guide and tips on having courageous conversations at difficult times. So, No Cape Needed!

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This article originally appeared on simply-communicate