Most leaders, from CEOs to front-line managers, fail to take communications as seriously as they should. They have a job to do and, in most cases, “communications” will only be vaguely mentioned in their job description. The description might include “engaging employees” but the connection with communications is seldom made. Instead, leaders focus on making their numbers, on managing their departments, not on communicating with their people. Communicational ways seems to drop to the bottom of the priority list–only handled when necessary. Here are a few of the ways you can coach your leaders to become better communicators:
Identify simple opportunities for genuine communication with staff. It is critical for executives who are reluctant communicators to gradually focus on changing their practices. Encourage the leader to deliver a positive message following an office accomplishment or other positive event at first.
Remember that their egos are on the line. If they have negative experiences right away, they will shy away from future communications, usually with the complaint that they’re “too busy.”
BALANCE YOUR FEEDBACK
Your feedback should reinforce the positive, but not be glowing. After presentations, leaders are used to hearing “great job” even when they know their presentations sucked.
For you to become a trusted advisor, you need to provide tempered feedback. When starting out, it can be effective to use a 3-to-1 ratio in positive-to-negative feedback. In other words, talk about three things the person did well to one negative aspect. Most leaders are Type A and will focus on the negative, so be prepared to explain, gently.
You’ll find the trust will rise after each feedback session. Give it time.
PROVIDE A PROCESS
It’s no secret that leaders value processes. With this in mind, you should assist them in developing a communication method that will build a habit for this new behavior. I advocate the technique I employ with leaders because it makes it simple for them to get comfortable.
Offering a rehearsal is a terrific way to strengthen your trusted relationship. In my experience with leaders, practice is the most important determinant of overall success and improvement.
Try to hold the rehearsal in the same area as the presentation to reduce worry and boost the leader’s confidence. If it is not an option, a conference room can be used. Provide constructive comments to the leader in order for them to continue to progress.
All of us like to know that we are improving in an activity. Leaders like to improve and especially appreciate showing measureable improvement. There are many ways to measure improved communications: from employee surveys before and after major presentations, to informal feedback. One simple method is to have a small trusted group of employees, say 5-10 anonymously answer survey questions as to the leader’s effectiveness as a communicator.
When I say “anonymous” I mean you communicate with these employees individually so they don’t know about one another, and the leader doesn’t who they are. You can then present the leader with before, after, and ongoing measurement of improvement. I’ve seen leaders grow enormously using these techniques. For some, you’ll see immediate results. For others, it will take much more time and patience, but progress will come. More than anything, the act of communicating is important. It builds on itself to become a habit. Employees see the communication and respond and a virtuous circle is created.
What have you done in your office to help improve communication among leadership? Good luck and happy coaching.