Last year, Forbes magazine contributor, Michael Myatt, wrote an insightful article on the 10 Communications Secrets of Great Leaders. I agree with all of them, but would like to add one: A leader should pay attention to what’s going on around him or her…and engage. (Yep, I see them as one leadership tool).
I’ve written before about how important communicating clearly is for both leaders and followers in my post, “Leaders can improve employee motivation with these tips.” However, I recently finished 20 physical therapy sessions recovering from a bicycle accident and observed how important communicating clearly is for, well everyone, and it begins with leaders paying attention to what’s going on around them.
The insight came from watching Stephanie, my PT, oversee a very active, high profile physical therapy clinic associated with a top-flite sports orthopedic practice. She has a number of people working under her who help with the volume of patients who filter in throughout the day. The clinic is busy enough that if she doesn’t keep things moving, patient experience suffers, the people working under her won’t grow professionally, and ultimately, the business takes a hit.
Here are four ways leaders can strengthen their leadership simply by paying attention and engaging through meaningful communications.
1. Know what people are supposed to be doing.
Stephanie may have several patients at any given time and she delegates their care to the PT team. However, she knows what each patient’s program is and she ensures the other PTs and patients are all on the same page. She might not be primarily involved in a patient’s therapy on a particular day, but that doesn’t mean she is detached. She knows what everyone is supposed to be doing.
2. Guide, don’t correct
The physical therapy room is large and it is freakish how Stephanie is aware of everything, even while heavily involved in caring for a particular patient. She doesn’t have time to stop what she’s doing, pull a PT to the side and privately coach them. So, she simply calls out across the room for a PT to correct the way an exercise is being done, for example. The difference between guiding and correcting, especially publicly, is tone of voice. Stephanie’s delivery is low-key and conversational. Yeah, in the end guidance is correction, but it’s done in a way that leads people to a destination without forcing them to get there. Being a skilled communicator is key.
3. Be firm without being a jerk
I confess, Stephanie had to yank my chain a number of times because I was cutting corners on a couple of exercises I simply didn’t like to do. However, if as a leader you are paying attention and engaging, you earn the right to be firm when necessary – and you can do it without being a jerk. Remember, tone of voice and guiding people to where they need to be. Leaders can make people do what they want simply by the imbalance of power in their positions relative to those around them. The end result may be what the leader desired, but the collateral emotional damage ultimately undermines a leader’s authority. However, it is possible to be firm when necessary without being a jerk.
4. Encouragement equals currency
A way to keep from being a jerk is to bank some emotional currency by drawing attention to people for doing the right thing. In other words, encouraging employees (and others) when they get it right or accomplish something difficult is a huge emotional lift. It motivates them to continue giving their best efforts and to appreciate their leader at a deeper level. If firmness is necessary and delivered appropriately, most reasonable people will accept the guidance more objectively from someone who notices when they get it right rather than only jumping on them when they drop the ball.
Leadership and communication go hand-in-hand. Leaders who pay attention to what’s going on around them better position themselves to more effectively communicate, increasing the probability the organization will reach its objectives and establish a loyal customer base.