Communicating as a Trusted Leader
By John Millen
With the recent dramatic changes in our business and personal lives due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaders more than ever must over-communicate and build trusted relationships.
That's because trust is everything. With trust in their leaders, people will give their all and may accomplish excellence. Without trust, nothing is quite right.
Think about today’s workplace. Even before this current crisis, employee engagement — people who are enthusiastic about their work — hovered at about 34 percent, according to 2018 Gallup research.
More importantly, the research notes that 53 percent are neutral, but about 13 percent are called “actively disengaged,” essentially working to undermine your team and organization.
I’m sure, if you think about your workplace, you could easily drop individuals’ names into these categories: highly engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.
As a leader, you have the opportunity to influence people to increase their engagement, and it starts with building trust.
Trust is fundamental
Building trust is a complex process with many factors at play, including honesty and integrity, acting in others’ interests, and having consistency between words and deeds.
While I won’t explore all those factors here, I want to offer a few leadership communications strategies to foster more trusted relationships at work and at home:
Giving people a glimpse of who you are, builds trust because before we can trust people, we must get to know them.
Many leaders feel uncomfortable sharing themselves or can’t decide how to break the wall between their personal and business lives.
The best way to share yourself is to tell your story. As humans, we are hard-wired for storytelling, which is why we become so engaged when we hear stories. Risk vulnerability by sharing yourself and your story.
Give them insight into what you're doing during this crisis, especially your interactions with heroic employees, clients and others.
An article in Wired magazine characterized Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s leadership style as starkly different from either Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer.
Since becoming CEO five years ago, Nadella has turned Microsoft around and made the company “cool again” as Nadella was named to Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2018.
Nadella says that his “clarity of vision and empathetic listening style trace their roots to a formative personal event.”
While on the fast track early in his career at Microsoft, Wired reports, “Zain, the first of his three children, was born profoundly disabled. The reality that Zain would be confined to a wheelchair set in. Initially, Nadella asked himself, ‘Why us? Why did this happen to us?’
But after a couple of years, his perspective shifted. ‘We realized this has nothing to do about us and everything to do about him,’ he says. Nadella understood his focus should be on others.”
LEARN MORE: Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella *
Change Your Mindset from ‘I’ to ‘We’
Many leaders fail because they separate themselves from their team in their minds and their actions. The late management guru Peter Drucker put it this way:
The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don't think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit....This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.
I know it sounds cliché when we say there’s no “I” in “team,” but it doesn't make it any less true. Many corporate cultures preach servant leadership but live something quite different — and employees know it all too well. Hypocrisy is worse than ignorance. (Thirty-four percent engagement starts to make sense.)
LEARN MORE: The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker *
Admit your failures
Too many leaders are afraid to admit failures, perhaps fearing a sense of weakness. But the opposite is true. When you admit to failures you are perceived as a stronger person, secure enough to share your mistakes. You are real.
It’s also important to develop a culture within your team or organization that can admit to failures. Some leaders actually celebrate failures as a way of creating a stronger, more innovative culture.
Ask open-ended questions
Speaking of taking the focus off of you and putting it on others, an easy way to do that is to ask people what they think, how they feel or what they would do. Instead of a “yes” or “no,” an open-ended question can draw a meaningful, thoughtful answer.
Think about the different responses you would get between a question like, “Do you have everything you need to do your job?” and “What do you find most challenging about your job?”
Listen more than you speak
Once you've asked the question, it’s time to listen. No, really listen to the response. Listen without judgment or defensiveness. Don’t listen while formulating a response. In fact, don’t respond. Listen and ask more questions.
You can’t listen too much. I suggest leaders think about the ratio between your listening and talking. Do you listen 30 percent and talk 70 percent? Shift the two so that you listen most of the time and see the results.
In an advanced workshop with senior leaders near Washington, DC, one of them said the classic line: his grandmother would tell him, “you have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” So true.
If you listen carefully during these challenging times, you'll hear incredible stories you can share with others as we all find our way back to normalcy.
Building and maintaining trust in relationships — in work and in life — is our most important and valuable activity.
And during this crisis, your relationships will be tested more than ever. Be sure you are communicating with trust.
After all, trust is everything.
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