John Millen | ,| By
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:
Spot easy opportunities for real communications with employees. For leaders who are reluctant communicators, it’s important to slowly work on modifying their behaviors. At first, encourage the leader to deliver a positive message after an office accomplishment or other positive event.
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 not news that leaders like processes. With that in mind, you should help them establish a process for communicating that will establish a routine for this new behavior. I recommend the process I use with leaders, which provides them with an easy way become comfortable.
One good technique for building your trusted relationship is to offer a rehearsal. In my experience with leaders, practice is the number one determinant of improvement and overall effectiveness.
Try to hold the rehearsal in the actual location of the presentation, which will help to relieve anxiety and increase the leader’s confidence. If that is not an option, use a conference room. Provide the leader with constructive feedback for continued improvement.
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.