Leadership communication can be improved upon coaching for better employee engagement, team dynamics, and organizational leadership bench, says Rachel Burr, Catamentum leadership Coaching.
The “telling”, or command-and-control style of leadership communication
Among many ways of miscommunication, under communication, or complete lack of communication, perhaps the most common is “telling people what to do”, instead of engaging, guiding, coaching, and inspiring people to participate and contribute.
This article will focus on the harms of constantly telling team members or subordinates what to do, a/k/a command and control, and what to do instead.
What leaders lose from micromanagement
When leaders micromanage, they undermine their team’s performance. Employees do not bring their own skills, ideas, or passion to the work. They often give up voicing their opinions and observations due to a lack of psychological safety and fear of being criticized. As a result, employees don’t feel they “own” the work or the results. They become disengaged and wait passively to be told what to do. When leaders do not value employees’ input, they not only encourage “quiet quitting,” but they fail to recognize new ideas, incorporate diverse perspectives, and they lose valuable insights required for innovation.
Leadership communication is truly about how to coach teams
A 2016 survey by the Harvard Business Review found that two-thirds of managers are simply not comfortable communicating with employees. Ineffective communication can be costly, or even destructive for the leadership, teams, and the organization.
To change leadership communication, leaders must first respect, trust, and value the people on their teams. Upon this foundation, the following actions improve communications, build teams, and create healthy organizations:
* Encourage Discussion and Feedback. When leaders create a safe environment, employees will more openly share information, ideas, and insights.
* Communicate Purpose. Communicate more than “what” needs to be done, communicate the “why.” When people understand the purpose of their work and how they contribute to that purpose, they feel more engaged and empowered to take action to achieve their goals.
* Listen. Effective leaders actively listen to others. They engage with genuine curiosity and the intent to understand the ideas and perspectives of others. Beyond the work, effective leaders listen to and get to know who their employees are as people–their lives, families, and what matters to them. When people feel heard, seen, and understood, they feel a greater sense of connection and commitment with their leader and their team.
*Demonstrate Integrity. Trusted leaders walk the talk. Leaders’ statements explicitly communicate their vision, values, and goals. Their behaviors implicitly communicate their commitment to those things. Integrity is how closely a leaders’ words match their behaviors. When it comes to communicating integrity, actions speak louder than words.
* Communicate Clearly. Effective guidance is clear, concise, and consistent. Whether communication is verbal or written, in person or virtual.
These actions are a good starting place for leaders to improve their communication, but developing great leadership communication skills is a process, not a checklist. Great leaders invest the time and attention to put these actions into practice.
Good communication and coaching can foster the next generation of Leaders
Moreover, the “telling” or “ordering” style of communication will hinder the development of the “bench” – bringing up the future leaders in the organization.
Leadership communication isn’t just announcing plans to employees. Open dialogues, active listening, and regular feedback can be used to spot and elevate leaders from within the organization.
However, a 2023 survey by the consulting firm DDI found that just 40% of leaders said their organizations had high quality leadership, and only 12% had confidence in the strength of their bench.
The leaders of the future also need to develop the psychological safety to take risks and try new things. Using effective leadership communication in this way can also have the added benefit of creating a virtuous cycle of open, clear, and honest communication at all levels of the organization.
No leader can afford to be an island. Whether an organization is planning for growth or succession, having a good bench of future leaders is a must. The home-grown new leadership will have been instilled with organizational knowledge and values, not easily replicated from the outside.
excellent leadership communication can increase engagement across the organization.
Rachel Burr is an executive and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience working with CEOs and the C-suite across all industries, in organizations of from 20 to 10,000 employees. Rachel holds dual master’s degrees in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, and numerous certifications in the field of executive coaching. Rachel is a “people expert” who works with clients to unleash their leadership potential.
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