By Jason Ingram
“What we’ve got here is [a] failure to communicate.”
This famous line from the 1967 movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” is so simple, yet it conveys a powerful message that almost everyone can relate to, particularly in business settings. Effective communication, as a necessary and desired trait, rears its head in nearly every study, blog, and bulleted list that exists about leadership and management, yet research proves that one of the top five management derailers is poor communication skills.
Poor communication skills seem like they would be easy enough to detect, but some managers overcompensate for (and disguise) their lack of communication skills in oblivious, destructive ways. A manager may be failing the communication test if he:
- Always seems to be feuding with someone or some group in the organization
- Has a reputation for being authoritarian, cold, aloof, arrogant, or insensitive
- Acts as a polarizing force within an organization (employees either love or hate him)
- Avoids direct communication or contact with some or all co-workers
- Delivers bad news through email rather than through direct conversations
- Exhibits a hostile attitude toward co-workers who share interdependent goals
- Becomes the target of subtle or blatant sabotage efforts
What can you do to ensure that your managers are practicing effective communication and actively avoiding communications failures that hinder morale, productivity, and performance?
Fortunately, there are obvious – if difficult to implement, because of the often sticky nature of interpersonal relationships – solutions to the issue of poor or non-existent managerial communication. Below are four tactics that will help even the most non-communicative manager begin to turn the corner towards more effective communication, and thus more effective leadership.
1. Emphasize the importance of effective communication
This is a company-wide discussion, and one that should take place several times per year, if not several times per quarter. Simply put, what you focus on as the leader of your organization will become a primary focus for your managers, employees, and even your partners and clients. For better or for worse, your managers are viewed as an extension of you and your organization; if you want them to communicate effectively, you need to model it and talk about it often, and your managers should feel the positive pressure to meet that expectation daily.
2. Help the manager identify his motivation and desires
Some employees are exceptional individual contributors, but just aren’t cut out to be managers. Conversely, some people have what it takes to lead, but aren’t as skilled or experienced as their peers. And frankly, some people just don’t want to be managers! If your manager’s issue is skills and experience, it may be easier to help him develop his skills than it is to train someone who completely lacks the behaviors and interests that contribute to leadership success. If the issues aren’t skill and experience, but leadership potential, you may have to let down gently the determined individual contributor who wants “the big chair,” but doesn’t have the traits you need in a manager. This could actually come as a relief to some managers, especially if means a return to the sales or service responsibilities for which they are better suited.
3. Help the manager identify his communication style
Many managers simply don’t know what they don’t know. For example, if he comes across as insensitive or aloof, point out the behavior and help him improve. It is important for the manager to understand his natural communication style and how it impacts others, both positively and negatively. The manager can’t be expected to improve if he never receives concrete feedback.
4. Model an appropriate communication style, and hold your managers accountable
We touched on this in the first tactic, but it’s so important – and so rarely done – that it bears repeating. Many managers underestimate the value and importance of communicating with and relating to their staff. They don’t view it as real work, but rather as touchy-feely nonsense. Even if your managers know what they’re supposed to do, it’s not enough to lead by the numbers from your office behind a closed door. Get out and make it a point to interact with each of your managers regularly — talk to them about the effectiveness of their communication, and either praise them when they’re communicating well or offer constructive feedback to improve their effectiveness. Either way, maintain an open dialogue. Your managers will see your investment in them, and will positively mimic your communicative approach.
Just because managers are in leadership positions does not always mean they are good leaders. Enable your managers by identifying their development needs and keep them from derailing themselves and their employees.