It really doesn’t matter if you’ve been a leader for 5 minutes or 50 years – communication is essential. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is impossible to lead if you don’t learn to communicate. I lead volunteers, and have a unique situation where I am able to invite some people into leadership for the very first time, while others have been leading in different capacities for quite awhile. In both cases, I’ve found people often need help in this foundational area of leadership – communication. No matter how long you’ve been leading, here are five communication essentials that every leader can use.
Your team needs to hear from you more often than you think. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one massive note will be your most effective strategy. After all, you just spent an hour and a half crafting it all into one perfect email. But that email may not bring the results you are expecting. Why? Because vision leaks. You think you’re pouring your heart and passion into a leak-proof container in the brains of your team. But brains aren’t leak-proof. Things are forgotten or pushed out of the way by a thousand other thoughts or ideas. The only way to compensate for the leaking is to keep pouring in. That means you need to communicate more often. Try to communicate each concept at least three times. One of those times, the information will be caught, and after that it will simply be reinforced. Just because you say it doesn’t mean the recipient is ready to hear it, but it’s your job to communicate enough that they can hear it.
If you send the same exact email out three different times in a week, chances are you’re still not going to get the results you desire. Yes, you have started communicating more frequently, but creativity in communication is just as essential. This is where knowing your team will really help. If you know the ways that they communicate best (not the ways YOU communicate best!), you can start to communicate more effectively. One team member may prefer short texts – send her one randomly! Another team member may respond well to phone calls – so call him! Find ways to talk to your team in person, or create a series of short videos that you can email or text out to them. Create a visually exciting half-page handout with important information (let’s face it – no one reads more than a half page anyway!). Maybe email is your best tool for communicating. If so, that’s great! You can change up the style – choose a different font, insert some appropriate humor, or link to a funny video. If you don’t want to read your own communication, no one else will want to either!
You’re starting to communicate more often, and in creative ways. Now it’s time to start communicating consistently. I only see my team of volunteers once a week. I can’t afford for my communication to only happen on that one day. I wouldn’t be able to give them the time they deserve, and they would quickly become frustrated or overwhelmed by my trying to throw everything at them in one day. As a result, I have come up with a consistent system that I can let new leaders know about as they are being onboarded. Every Monday, every leader on my team can expect an email from me that is purely inspirational and educational. I share with them something that I am learning in my own life, or something we can celebrate as a team. Every Monday my senior leadership receives an overview of the past week with things we did well and things that need to improve, as well as an update on upcoming events and projects. Once a month I meet 1:1 with every person in my senior leadership. Every quarter I meet 1:1 with every leader on my team. I organize team events every other month, and I often schedule weekly phone calls with those leaders on my team who communicate best in that fashion. There should never be a time when my team is wondering when they will hear from me. They know!
Think of a time when you were frustrated by your leader. One of the most frustrating issues can be when you are unsure of what your leader is trying to communicate. You may not know exactly what he or she is expecting from you, or you may not understand the idea that he is communicating. In either case, you are unable to move forward without clear communication. As a leader, it is my job to communicate clearly with my team. It is not their job to try to decipher what I am saying. I can’t assume that my team has understood what I am telling them unless I ask them! Don’t be afraid to check in with your team and make sure they are understanding what you are trying to communicate. Your team will be grateful that you are seeking clarity. Don’t leave people wondering exactly what you need or expect. Honor them by communicating clearly every time.
Communication is now happening frequently, clearly, regularly, and consistently. But without honesty, you are still doing your team a disservice. I hope your first reaction is that you feel you always communicate honestly with your team. Again, one of the best ways to gauge this is to ask your team if they feel you are honest with them. Sometimes it is difficult to tell someone that they need to change. I feel that confrontation is necessary for great leadership. Don’t compromise your heart, or the hearts of your team by not being honest with them. Respect them enough to tell them the truth, even when the truth is difficult.
Communication is something that every leader can improve on. I would love to hear how one of these ideas has helped you, or other ways you have found to improve your communication.