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Stanford professor Bob Sutton regards leadership as an expression of comedy and tragedy.
For instance, he has said that good leaders know when to be boring, vague, emotionally detached and authoritarian.
In a recent interview, he was asked when boredom might be desirable.
Sutton described the plight of Don Petersen, CEO of Ford after the Iacocca era, when the company had almost nothing but bad news.
Petersen was invited to speak at the National Press Club.
“He didn’t want to do it,” Sutton says. “At the time, Ford had no good cars at
all. But he and his PR chief decided he would go and give a speech about the most boring subject they could think of. At the time, that was safety.
He practiced speaking in the most boring way possible, using the passive voice and long sentences.
He put up charts that were hard to read, and then turned his back to the audience to talk about the charts.
After that, the press lost interest in him for a while, so he could concentrate on doing the work.”
Communication is one of the most difficult parts of leadership. Essentially, communication is the process of sending and receiving information between people. Effective communication requires the sender and the receiver to deliver a message that is clear and translated well; Individuals working together in the same organization, team, or unit need to speak to each other continuously to keep each other updated on the most current information; sharing information plays a critical role in teamwork success. Yet, sharing or translating information is challenging; in other words, it’s difficult to convert what we mean into what we say and to translate what we say into what we mean (Covey, 1991, p.183).
Useful communication needs to be a conversation – a dialogue, not a monologue. A conversation is an exploration in which participants agree to try to gain a better understanding of issues or concerns. (Denning, 2007) A dialogue can be an informal exchange or conversation as well as a formal discussion or negotiation between two or more people about opinions, ideas, feelings, or ordinary issues of any kind and sometimes about opposite perspectives. Ideally, dialogues need to be collaborative and in a productive one, people listen to each other to find common ground, meaning, and mutual agreement. Leaders can facilitate more collaborative conversations by: asking questions; leveling with people; showing vulnerability; building on the contributions of others; sharing stories; and encouraging others to share stories. (Denning) Essentially, leadership communication is about influencing others – setting goals, changing behavior, and inducing action. Maxwell (2010) in his book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently claims that connecting increases influence, and describes it as an ability to relate and identify with others that can be developed.
Connecting with other people includes the following approach: first, understand their value; then understand it is entirely about others; and finally understand that connecting occurs when others actually feel valued. (Maxwell) Leaders have a greater chance of connecting with others when they relate to each other using nonverbal as well as verbal communication skills, and in reality, they can connect most successfully when they leverage effective nonverbal communication strategies.
Maxwell implies that connecting requires energy and initiative and identifies four components to connecting, including:
1) connecting visually – what people see
2) connecting intellectually – what people understand
3) connecting emotionally – what people feel
4) connecting verbally – what people hear
Most people either consciously or unconsciously pay more attention to the message sent via nonverbal communication (behavior and verbal tone) rather than the actual words spoken. (Price, 2012) Research suggests that nonverbal messages are believed more so than the verbal ones, especially when someone sends an asymmetric message in which the nonverbal message is incongruent with the verbal one. (Price) In general, experts indicate that between 50-80% of all communication is nonverbal and that nonverbal communication carries between 65% and 93% more impact than the actual words spoken, particularly when messages involve emotional meaning and attitudes. (Price)
In a business dictionary, non-verbal communication is defined as the behavior and elements of speech apart from the words themselves that transmit meaning. Non-verbal communication involves pitch, speed, tone and volume of voice, gestures and facial expressions, body posture, stance, and proximity to the listener, eye movements and contact, dress, and appearance.
Interestingly, up to 10,000 nonverbal cues can be exchanged in less than one minute in a face-to- face interaction with just one person. (Wood, 2012) Apart from actual words spoken, nonverbal cues encompass numerous ways in which people can present and express themselves, including body language, nuances of the voice (i.e., tone, volume), details of dress, and use of objects that communicate.
What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Effective and carefully selected nonverbal communication is critical for effective leadership. Body language, which is a form of nonverbal communication, is an integral part of a person’s communication style and encompasses facial expressions, eye contact, posture, movement, gestures, physical state, position and relationship to other bodies, objects, and surroundings. Body language is meaningful when we meet someone for the first time, and therefore, leaders need to be aware that body language is influential in forming first impressions. Leaders need to understand that eyes are vital to body language; massive feeling can be conveyed in a particular glance with no words spoken at all.
Furthermore, body language is constantly being exchanged and interpreted between people; thus developing an awareness to “read” body language and to understand the messages being sent through body language helps leaders become much more effective in their ability to communicate.
Coaching has a proven impact: add coaching to an initiative and people will focus on that initiative more.
Add coaching to training and people learn more, up to 6 times as much in some cases. Coaches are like midwives for change: they know when change is coming, when it’s here, when it needs a nudge, and when it’s happening too fast. As change catalysts, coaches assist with managing the speed of change and smooth transition through change. With our understanding of how the brain works – there is an inbuilt resistance to change, and minimising the stress response, and error detection of the amygdala through actions like naming and normalising – we can make this process less painful. Change can be deeply challenging and emotional change required in organizational transition requires hardwiring of new learning through insight and action.
Coaches are the perfect people to have around to facilitate this process.
Changes can be on the organizational culture and structure level but can also be at individual levels, team levels and conversational levels, e.g.
• Driving the leadership pipeline through integrated coaching solutions – personal and organizational performance change
• Shifting culture by transforming the quality of every conversation – conversational leading to culture change
• Lifting performance by improving retention & engagement – development leading to culture change.
The power of why is what carries you and your team through the mundane donkey work of accomplishing your mission.
Any hows have no meaning unless your whys are powerful enough to motivate you, your employees and your customers. With- out why, you’ll end up like every other per- son who makes a New Year’s resolution.
Here’s a metaphor to bring it home:
If there were a 10-inch-wide, 30-foot plank and somebody offered you $20 to walk it, of course you would. That’s easy.
If the same plank were laid between the upper floors of two skyscrapers, you’d probably have a different thought.
But if your child was in the other building and it was on fire, you’d go across that plank without question.
There’s your why.
When arguments arise, it’s tempting to make statements to assert your claims or defend yourself. But shrewd questions work better to calm the situation.
Use these inquiries to extricate your- self from confrontational conversations:
• If a colleague criticizes you, ask, “Can you give an example?” When crit- ics shift from leveling general attacks to citing specific instances, you’re in a better position to evaluate the validity of their comments.
Follow up by asking, “Can you sug- gest any actions I can take to address your concern?” This shows you’re eager to hear more and learn from others. Your receptivity, in itself, can defuse a hostile adversary.
• If your beliefs come under attack, resist the urge to defend or disagree. Instead, shove aside indignant feelings and play the role of an inquisitive col- lege professor.
Say a disgruntled employee tells you, “You and your core values! You’re such a hypocrite.” Control your anger and ask, “How do you think our core val- ues need to change?” As you brace for Leaders Toolkit stinging feedback, strive to understand the full nature of the employee’s griev- ance before you respond.
• If a customer adopts an apathetic tone, your instinctive reaction might be to talk more. But before you shift into verbal overdrive, probe to determine the customer’s mindset.
Ask, “What’s the most pressing issue you face?” Steer the dialogue in a direction that will best serve the customer’s interest.
• If someone erupts in anger, take a breath and remind yourself not to match or exceed the other’s fury. Then pause and ask, “Do you mind if we start over?”
Highly emotional people might continue to express their anger. But keep asking succinct questions such as, “What can I do to help?” or “Can we start from scratch?” Responding to difficult conversations with earnest questions often helps you maintain your composure. Better yet, it signals to others that you’re eager to listen rather than ratchet up the tension.
Effective webinar presenters must rely more heavily on voice and visual aids as the primary communicators. The following guidelines are designed to help you improve your ability to present powerfully and persua- sively in the virtual presentation environment.
Before the webinar, plan, prepare and rehearse. Ideally, schedule the webinar to begin at 15 minutes past the hour. Times such as 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. are optimal to ensure participants’ availability before or after lunch. Keep your presentation relatively short — typi- cally no more than an hour if possible.
Arrive 30 min- utes early to ensure proper technical setup.
Open with a captivating attention-getter. Design and use more slides for a webinar than you would in a face- to-face presentation. Stand up to present; exude enthusi- asm and use an upbeat tone of voice. Use a high-quality headset or handset; avoid the speakerphone.
Interact with your audience frequently and change a visual element every 30 seconds. Close with a com- pelling summary and call to action. After the webinar, follow-up appropriately. Ask for feedback or conduct a survey to improve your next webinar. Send an email thanking attendees for their participation.
Make sure your emails get the attention and response they deserve with these best practices for effective emails:
• Make the subject line clear and meaningful.
• Keep your message short.
• Communicate first things first.
• Tell recipients what action you want them to take and give due dates.
• Organize your points using bullets or numbers.
• Make sure your intent is clear: start with your conclusion and then explain.
• Use proper “Netiquette” and email formatting. Show thoughtful consideration for the other person.
• Realize your email is not private.
Use the following guidelines for planning, rehearsing and delivering winning team presentations:
• Appoint a strong leader or captain. The team leader is responsible for total project management from concept development through the final presentation. Whether it’s content, structure, presenters or logistics, the captain takes full responsibility for the overall outcome of
• Decide on three clearly defined goals. Make a list of goals, then narrow it down to those that are most important. Focus on the three most essential goals you as a team want to achieve with this specific audience.
• Prepare, prepare, prepare. Know your audience. Organize your individual presentations as if they were each part of one continuous presentation delivered by several people.
• Optimize individual strengths. Assign each team mem- ber specific responsibilities regarding content, delivery, visual aids, research, handouts and deadlines — based on each person’s strengths and expertise.
• Ask the lead presenter to facilitate Q&A. The leader should respond immediately with a brief answer and then direct the question to the member who is best equipped to elaborate.
• Rehearse as a team. It’s critical that the team practice together. It’s the best way to ensure a high level of comfort with the presentation and each other. A full dress rehearsal with visual aids is a must for successful team presentation.
• Remember, you are always on. In a team presentation, everyone is being watched, even when they’re not pre- senting. Stay alert. Listen. Show interest in what’s being said. Pay attention to the audience. You may pick up signals that help you gauge audience response and then tailor your comments and presentation accordingly.
Your most basic responsibility as a leader is to connect with those around you.
You are listening and talking with people; you are having conversations. Ideally, those conversations are powerful, influential and meaningful. Are your conversations creating the outcomes you desire?
You can learn to achieve results by following four basic but important steps:
1. Establish mutual objectives and purpose. An effective leader goes first and gets the ball rolling, espe- cially if the topic is emotionally charged or laced with conflict. The critical success factor in the step is sinceri- ty. Be open, approachable and transparent. Your candor and authenticity create an emotional connection with people that in turn gives them the green light to open up and express what they want to accomplish.
2. Express mutual needs and wants. The second step — the critical success factor — is seeking under- standing. An effective leader seeks to understand the other person; to gain clarity by probing for his or her wants and needs. The second part of step two is clearly stating your own wants and needs. In advance of meet- ing with the person or group, clearly define your own desired outcome in your own mind.
3. Explore new possibilities. The key success factor in step three is curiosity. All too often, leaders skip this critical stage. Their results-oriented personality urges them to jump directly into an action plan. It’s critically important, however, to invest some extra time to imag- ine all the possible options and alternatives. A great leader challenges his or her team to stretch their think- ing and go beyond textbook answers.
4. Commit to mutual action. The key differentia- tor between powerful conversations and the ordinary run-of-the-mill variety is measurable outcomes. Action is the critical success factor in this step of the process. It’s critical that all action items are clear and explicit, and that each person commits to his or her to-do list.