Practice What You Preach – You Are What Your Message Is
As we mentioned above, communication goes beyond choosing the right words, the right language when speaking to your workers or dealing with business clients. Communication should be tantamount to the things you say and the things that you do – it’s one thing to say it in words, but another thing to back up those words with action. And when you’re the owner of a company – and we’re not just talking about B2B firms here – you’re always under the microscope. Your employees talk about you by the proverbial water cooler. Your clients’ representatives confer among each other and tally their observations based on their impression of you. And if you’re a publicly traded company, your investors are also analyzing your language and comparing it against your actions.
Think about it this way – if your spoken message is that employees should maintain work-life balance, you don’t want people pointing out that they are, in fact, going around the workplace like zombies. And for example more relevant to business-to-business transactions, you don’t want to come about as unethical (and hypocritical) when your spoken language suggests solid business ethics. Also, you don’t want to cultivate an image as a sweatshop when your press literature stresses that your workers are paid competitively and work reasonable hours.
In other words, the message you impart in words should match the message you send through your actions. Good communication in relation to good leadership, in part, means practicing what you preach.
Be a Positive Leader
Think back to the time when you were in the rank-and-file. Have you ever experienced a time, or do you know someone who’s experienced the shame of being called out in front of their peers? Have you received an email from a boss who made sure to copy everyone in your team, not to mention some of your other superiors, with a screen capture of a mistake you made and big, bold, red letters telling you, in no uncertain terms, that you screwed up?
Shame tactics aren’t just antiquated. They’re also very unethical, and they’re also bad for business. Today’s employees don’t get motivated by these tactics; conversely, they tend to perform poorly due to the unreasonable pressure and lack of motivation, or worse, quit their jobs in disgust. And it won’t look good on a company either – who wants to do business with a company owned by someone whose actions towards employees are tantamount to bullying?
Negative vibes beget negative vibes. If you, as a boss, are usually in a foul mood, your employees will almost always feel like they’re walking on eggshells. Visiting clients will notice the dour mood and sense that something is amiss. But if you take time to compliment a job well done, deal with employee mistakes in private and in a reasonable manner, and offer more positive statements than negative ones (some suggest a 3-is-to-1 ratio for positive to negative), you’ll be spreading good cheer in the office and your clients will be more confident in dealing with an upbeat leader like yourself.
Know All Your Workers, Emphasis on All
Didn’t it make you feel small back in the day, when your superior would address you with a generic, soulless “hey, you!” instead of your name? Sure, he or she may have had hundreds of people working for him/her, including several new hires, but at the end of the day, that’s not an excuse for not knowing somebody’s name.
One technique you can use is to cover the walls of your cubicle with cards featuring a photo of a new employee and their name. This would allow you to quickly remember a new worker’s name and how he or she looks like. Additionally, you’ll want to call your employees by their first names – it’s a warmer approach when dealing with your people, and it makes them feel appreciated by the big boss. It’s another story when you’re talking business with clients – listen for clues, subtle or not, and address them the way they want to be addressed, may it be by first name by something more formal, say, Mr. or Ms. Smith.
In addition, it’s imperative that you take time to speak to everyone in your office. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face, in-depth communication all the time – it could be via email, or a simple “hi” or “hello” as you walk around your workplace and take interest in what everybody is doing. And if you don’t know a person’s name, never be shy to ask. But since “Management by Walking Around” (MBWA) does have its drawbacks, it doesn’t hurt either to devote a few minutes a week per employee to have a face-to-face conversation with them in private, even if it’s just to ask how they’re doing.
Silence Means...Well, Nothing – The Importance of Transparency
You’ve heard the expression before – “silence means yes.” But when it comes to communication and applying it towards effective leadership, silence does NOT mean “yes.” It doesn’t mean “no” either. In fact, it doesn’t mean a thing at all – it’s just silence, with you leaving everyone from your employees to your clients in a state of uncertainty.
Now some may argue that no news is better than hearing bad news, but there are times when bad news may be the best news you can relay to your employees and your clients. For your employees, it means giving them the heads-up and allowing them to plan ahead, instead of making them the last to know, with the bad news hitting them on their collective heads like a hammer. And for your clients, it could mean not closing a deal right away, but likewise, keeping them in the loop is the ethical thing to do. They wouldn’t like it either if they’d accept a deal, but find out later on that they had the short end of the stick all along – that’s sure to scotch future transactions before they even happen.
So with that in mind, transparency should be practiced at all times and in all situations – your silence and refusal to give timely updates will only undermine your ability as a leader.
Mikael Kamber is a management expert who studied behavioral economics and is the author of The Yes Culture. He is also the news presenter for TV 2 NEWS in Danemark.