Leadership, like life, is a journey and not a destination.
Now I must emphasize one point before you start reading this column that will attempt to make you a better leader. Writing and doing are two different things. Yes, I have spent the last 10+ years of my career studying what the best and worst leaders do, then transferring those lessons to myself and others, but I have struggled mightily to apply many of these lessons daily. Instead of crushing my soul and believing I am not meant to be a great leader, it's convicted me to constantly look at the journey of becoming a better leader rather than just arriving as one.
I have learned that the closer you get to being a truly authentic leader, the less you feel like one.
The closer you get to being a truly authentic leader, the less your feel like one.
In many things, ignorance can be bliss, but not in leadership. There is nothing worse than a manager who isn't self-aware of their shortcomings as a leader. It's caused more professionals to leave a company or a profession altogether than any other factor. Don't believe me? A recent study found a staggering 79% of employees will quit after receiving inadequate appreciation from their managers.
There are many talents and skills leaders must develop and demonstrate to be effective over time. Our research indicates building trust, having empathy, establishing a vision, giving recognition, and coaching others are essential. However, communicating effectively is at the top of the list.
It could be as simple as writing an email, giving a presentation, sending a text, or turning on your listening ears. Regardless of the type of communication, the key is that you're effective at it. I like to think of it as the essential rule of leadership. "If you struggle with communication, you will never reach your potential as a leader."
If you struggle with communication, you will never reach your potential as a leader.
As I wrote in Building the Best, the key to successful leadership today is elevating others. So the problem with not reaching your potential as a leader is you won't be helping others achieve theirs.
There are a lot of gifted orators with silver tongues and unmistakable mannerisms. At the same time, many professionals clam at the thought of delivering a presentation. Regardless of the camp you are in, or somewhere in between, there is one communication mistake anyone is susceptible to make, and that is demanding and downloading, not inspiring.
Too many leaders demand and download instead of inspire when communicating.
This doesn't mean every email or conversation must have your audience ready to run through a wall, but it does mean you have to be more concerned with the audience than the person doing the communicating. The word inspire means "to breathe life into." You can't breathe life into someone or get someone else to take any action they wouldn't otherwise take if you don't get past their mind and into their heart.
When leaders fail in their communication, they never get to people's hearts.
I was reminded of this truth in a conversation with a talented therapist named Kimberly Mengel. She said, "the heart is the wellspring of life." It's stuck with me for some time now because I have repeatedly seen when leaders fail in their communication, they never get to their people's hearts.
There are all kinds of tactics and strategies to become a more effective communicator. Instead of going into the depths of storytelling or the three C's of successful communication, I want you to turn your attention to two things; how much you speak and being more transparent.
1.How Much You Speak - Being an exceptional listener is key to being a great communicator. Not only is this true, but Simon Sinek took it a step further in a keynote some years ago, when he spoke about "being the last to speak." You can watch the short clip here.
As brilliant as this idea is, I know it's not always possible. Instead, turn your attention to "how much you speak." Your goal as a leader shouldn't be to tell people what to do. It should be to help them determine what to do and what can be done to implement it. This means speaking less and asking better questions.
2. Be More Transparent - All too often, when there are things leaders must say to people, they avoid the topic or sugarcoat it in a way the truth never comes out. Instead, I want you to opt for more transparency in your communication. The reason is transparency implies openness and accountability.
I asked Robert Quesnel, a seasoned executive and phenomenal leader at American Family Insurance, why leaders aren't transparent, and what he said moved me. "Many leaders aren't transparent because they are insecure narcissists and lack confidence in themselves." Not only is Quesnel right, but too many leaders hide behind the shield their title provides instead of being transparent and telling the truth.
Too many leaders hide behind the shield their title provides instead of being transparent and telling the truth.
The best part of communication is you get endless opportunities every day to work on improving. I hope some of these ideas inspire you to evaluate how much you speak and how transparent you are in and effort to apply them on your leadership journey.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.