Recently, I met with an extremely experienced, successful leader at a global organization. By any measure, he had had a stellar career. But he was unhappy, because he had come to realize that he didn’t have a good relationship with his team, and he felt that the aloof, command-and-control leadership style he’d been expected to follow from a young age was holding him back from getting better results with his direct reports. He felt isolated in the workplace but didn’t know how to change.
A recent poll found that 65% of employees would forgo a pay-rise if it meant their boss got fired. Ouch. Leaders of people play perhaps the most important role in building employee engagement and helping staff to perform at their potential. So how can leaders like my friend here use communication to develop better relationships with their team, and enhance their reputation and professional happiness at the same time?
Gather the data
You wouldn’t develop a strategy without first understanding the landscape you’re operating in. Developing your communications approach is no different - it’s important to understand how you’re perceived now, so you can decide on areas to prioritize in order to enhance your reputation and relationships.
There’s no getting around it, this can be uncomfortable, but the insights will be invaluable and will help you enhance the self awareness that is the trait of all good leaders.
You needn’t ask your team directly what they think of you, unless you (and they) feel comfortable to do so. Other options include a 360 degree feedback form, implemented by an objective third party, or inviting a consultant or other outsider to seek confidential inputs from your team members.
Remember to consider feedback with an open mind and try not to be defensive. When you can lower your barriers you open the door to genuine, positive change and growth.
Be Authentically You
Leaders are human too, and come in all shapes and sizes. One CEO I know is so extroverted she does video karaoke to energize her team. Others may be introverted, collaborative, direct… there are as many character traits as there are leaders in the world.
To be honest, I strongly dislike the term ‘personal brand’. Brands are boring - they don’t have character quirks or flaws or feel dysfunctional without coffee. Humans are much more interesting, and their uniqueness is why we relate to them more than we relate to Coca-Cola or Apple.
So, the message here is, don’t try to build a flawless ‘brand’, or be something you’re not. Not every leader has to be a Richard Branson. You can be a great communicator, and still connect with people in your own, genuine way.
Get to know your team
The best way to build connections is to listen rather than talk. You don’t have to become best friends with your team, and many leaders would prefer not to - that’s fine. But finding small ways to connect with team members will help them trust you, and trust is the most important ingredient in relationships where you need to influence people.
What does this look like? Start by asking how their weekend was. If they have children, ask their names and ages - and see if you can remember them. Do they play football or knit or volunteer for a charity? Viewing your team members as a whole person and showing interest makes them feel important and valued. And people who feel valued are happier and perform better.
Reveal something of yourself
Relationships are a two way street. Revealing something of yourself begins to cement the trust that you build when you get to know your team members.
Again, you don’t need to bare your soul. Anything that shows that you’re more than the slightly intimidating person at work who metes out rewards and punishments, will help your staff feel trust in you. The more vulnerable and authentic you’re willing to be, the more this relationship will build, but it doesn’t have to happen overnight.
Connect your team to the bigger picture
It’s something I repeat often, but that’s because it’s important. Only a third of employees understand their corporate strategy, and fewer than10% can articulate their role in delivering it. It makes you wonder how people prioritize their goals, and how much more efficient businesses could be.
People leaders play the most important role in turning these numbers around. Generally, employees report that their immediate managers are very poor at communicating organizational objectives and information. As a leader, if you can set aside time to share what your organization is trying to achieve and why, and how your team plays a part in achieving that, you’ll be strides ahead. Your team will have vital clarity, feel more connected to their organization and will appreciate you for taking the time to connect the dots for them.
Establishing your credentials as an authentic leader and strong communicator can take time, especially if you started your career in an era when bosses were remote, intimidating, patriarchal figures. Taking small steps and adjusting your approach based on the response cues you receive from your team will get you there.
Why not start with buying them a coffee? After all, if you don’t function without it, maybe they don’t either.
Would you like to talk more about how you can get great results from your team, by developing your communication approach? Our first consultation is always free and obligation-free, so get in touch for a confidential chat today.