Talking Leadership

Posts Tagged ‘Communication’

Lead Like Scrooge?

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on December 1, 2017 at 11:51 am

Scrooge

“Oh!, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” – Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol

At this time of year it seems fitting to turn to Dickens with A Christmas Carol for some seasonal leadership inspiration. Let’s see what we can learn from one of literature’s most well known bosses – Ebenezer Scrooge. Read the passage again and this time let your mind linger over the words, then let’s take a closer look.

As the story unfolds, we can’t help but sympathize with the diligent and hard working clerk Bob Cratchit, a devoted husband and father who must endure the scorn and mistreatment of a cold and uncaring boss. Scrooge sees Bob’s wish to be with his family over Christmas as an imposition. As far as he’s concerned Cratchit is taking advantage of him. Even today there are a great many people feeling torn between unreasonable bosses and their families, they are often as discouraged as Bob Cratchit. Encouraging a healthy work / life balance is not only the right thing to do – it builds loyalty and performance. So this Christmas season why not take time to do a balance audit. Look a little more closely at how hard the members of your team are working and how they are feeling about it. Make sure there is time for family, rest and even a little Christmas cheer.

Dickens describes Scrooge as “secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I think we can pull two good lessons from this passage. Today too many leaders hoard too much information. They don’t talk to team members regularly about the business, and when they do their comments are often superficial. If you want involved employees then you have to involve them – that’s the way it works. When you share information openly, when you genuinely work to help the members of your team understand the situation (whatever it is), you send a powerful message that you trust them and care about them. This is why a good communication plan is a strong loyalty builder. Remember, we talk to people we care about. This is the message good communicators send. So this season, take stock of how often you’re holding staff meetings and how openly you are sharing information.

Finally, I ask what might be the most important the question: Can a leader be “solitary as an oyster” and still build a high performance team? You of course know the answer. Leadership is at its heart all about relationships. When the people you lead know you care about them, they care about you – team members don’t want to disappoint leaders who care about them. I am convinced this is a powerful and enduring leadership truth. Whether you are encouraging, challenging or correcting, it must be evident that you care. So your final assignment as this Christmas approaches is to ask yourself how well you know the people you are leading and how well they know you. If you have well developed relationships, you are doing the work of a good leader, keep it up. If you’ve lost touch, if you’re spending too much time in your office and not enough on the shop floor resolve to get out more – Christmas is a great time to make a start.

We all know how the story ended. Ebenezer had a change of heart. He became the very best of leaders, illustrating the last and most important lesson: a change in the right direction can have a dramatic effect on everyone involved. Merry Christmas all, let us all try to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long.

Dan Gaynor

Leadership Resolutions

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on January 1, 2014 at 6:37 pm

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As the year 2014 gets underway many of us will take the opportunity to reflect on the year past and make some resolutions for the one just getting underway. So let’s build on this theme with the idea that leadership is all about choice. The best leaders make better choices than the rest, so let us consider some of the more important ones, developing something of a checklist for possible resolutions. 

The first and likely the most important choice is between self and team. So many poor leaders think the team exists to meet their needs. The best understand that they exist to meet the team’s needs. All great leadership is sacrificial. The best understand that their needs come last. The best use their power and any other resources at their disposal to serve the teams they lead. People respond to these leaders with hard work and loyalty. 

Next on our list is the choice between sharing and withholding information. A great many leaders see information as power, without realizing that the power is in sharing, not withholding it. Topics like earnings, marketshare, labour issues and a host of other strategic items are often the ones leaders avoid. Talking about them sends a powerful message of trust and it gives people the big picture context they need to do their jobs well. Discussing the more personal topics like the departure of colleagues sends the message that the leader knows and cares about the things team members care about – it draws people closer. To be sure, you must approach these issues sensitively and without disclosing confidential information. You can talk about the organization’s position to a target without disclosing the actual numbers. You can acknowledge that a departing colleague will be missed without disclosing the reasons for the departure. The bottom line is, if you want engaged employees, you have to engage them. 

Our third choice is to invest in the development of your team members. I’m not talking here about finding budget for a continuing education course (although there is nothing wrong with this.) I’m talking about investing personal time to teach what you have learned to the people you lead, one on one, or in groups. This kind of teaching sends the message that you care and it builds stronger more dedicated teams. These are the leaders others describe as mentors. 

Our fourth choice, between confrontation and avoidance, is one that trips up many leaders. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge proponent of feedback skills. I believe great feedback habits are often what separates the most effective leaders from the rest. Why? Because great leaders build strong teams one member one conversation at a time. Each time you correct a problem, you strengthen the team. The problem is, these can be difficult conversations and so a great many leaders choose to avoid them. And this is often a very private choice. The chances are, if you avoid corrective feedback, much of the time no one else will know you did. Your team will stall, never coming close to its potential. 

There are of course other important choices, leadership is all about them, but these four are certainly a good starting point. So how well did you choose last year, and what’s in store for 2014?

Discussion Questions:

1. How are your communication habits? Are you sharing as much information as you could or should be?

2. How much time are you spending personally teaching what you have learned to others?

3. When faced with a need to provide corrective feedback, how do you respond?

4. Take the time to write one leadership resolution for the coming year.

Want to go deeper into leadership? Why not start the year off with a group workshop.

Communication That Builds Engagement

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on January 1, 2013 at 9:49 am

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Just about everyone accepts that communication is an essential leadership practice, but why? Strong communication skills boost performance by sending the message that the leader trusts the team and they build engagement. We talk to people we care about, and this is the message good communicators send.

So how do the most effective leaders communicate? The first method is the simplest – they spend time with followers. They lead from the front. As the president of a large daily newspaper I spent a lot of time talking with the members of my team. At least once a week I would take a couple of hours and walk through the departments, stopping to talk for even a few minutes with as many people as I could. I ate in the cafeteria regularly, because it gave me another opportunity to spend time with people. We talked about families, interests, sons and daughters; and we talked about how the work was going. I learned a lot from those conversations and I built relationships. So important were my departmental walkabouts that I had an arrangement with my executive assistant such that if I had gone the week without this walkabout, she was to remind me on Friday afternoon. She didn’t need to very often, but every now and then I had a really hectic week and forgot. Gail let me know and I got up from my desk and took my walk – it was always one of the best parts of the week for me.

My walkabouts always took me to the call centre that was our classified advertising department. During an eight month labour dispute, this was among the many departments that remained on the job, it was a difficult test for everyone. That Christmas the men and women of the department sent me a Christmas card filled with many heartfelt handwritten encouragements. Here were the members of our team, thinking to encourage me! That card is now framed in my home office and remains one of my favourite mementos. That department was filled with people who did more than I could have hoped for to contribute through a difficult time, they were fully engaged. Remember, we talk to people we care about. They cared about me because they knew I cared about them. Leaders who don’t spend time this way with people are missing a great opportunity.

Good leaders also send the message they care by sharing information. You cannot expect followers to fully contribute to your plans when you don’t fully share them. If you want an engaged team, you must engage them.

We can learn much from the story of Canadian Major-General Arthur Currie. After failed attempts by both the French and British to take the WW1 stronghold of Vimy Ridge from the Germans, the mission fell to the Canadian First Division led by Currie. After months of scrupulous planning and rehearsal Currie’s troops attacked on April 9, 1917, three days later they had succeeded. Why? Currie was a good planner but he also did something that was revolutionary at the time – he shared the mission’s maps and detailed plans with his troops. Before Currie, these were considered strictly the property of officers. Everyone who participated had a detailed understanding of the mission. Currie figured out that more information was better than less and introduced a new approach to leadership that has since been widely adopted. The right communication builds engagement and sends a powerful message of trust.

For a highly practical look at communication skills check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, available as a softcover and e-book.

Discussion Questions:

1. How much time are you spending with the people you lead?
2. How fully do you share detailed mission plans with your team?
3. What is the team effect when leaders are believed to be withholding information?

To sharpen your team’s leadership skills call or write to learn more about a half-day workshop or speaking engagement.

Lead Like Scrooge?

In Leadership Articles (Archives) on December 1, 2012 at 8:58 am

“Oh!, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens.

As Christmas draws near it seems appropriate to turn to Dickens with A Christmas Carol for some seasonal leadership inspiration. Let’s see what we can learn from one of literature’s most well known bosses – Ebenezer Scrooge. Read the passage again and this time let your mind linger over the words, then let’s take a closer look.

We can’t help but sympathize with the diligent and hard working clerk Bob Cratchett, a devoted husband and father who must endure the scorn and mistreatment of a cold and uncaring boss. Scrooge sees Bob’s wish to be with his family over Christmas as an imposition. As far as he’s concerned Cratchett is taking advantage of him. Even today there are a great many people feeling torn between unreasonable and too demanding bosses and their families, they are often as discouraged as Bob Cratchett. Encouraging a healthy work / life balance is not only the right thing to do – it builds loyalty and performance. So this Christmas take time to do a balance audit. Look a little more closely at how hard the members of your team are working and how they are feeling about it. Make sure there is time for family, rest and even a little Christmas cheer.

Dickens describes Scrooge as “secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” I think we can pull two good lessons from this passage. Today a great many workplace leaders hoard too much information. They don’t talk to their employees regularly about the business, and when they do their comments are often superficial. If you want involved employees then you have to involve them – that’s the way it works. When you share information openly, without threatening, when you genuinely work to help the members of your team understand the situation (whatever it is), you send a powerful message that you trust them and care about them. This is why a good communication plan is another productivity multiplier and loyalty builder. Remember, we talk to people we care about. This is the message good communicators send. So this season, take stock of how often you’re holding staff meetings and how openly you are sharing information.

Finally, I ask the question: Can a leader be “solitary as an oyster” and still build a high performance team? You of course know the answer. Leadership is at its heart all about relationships. When you care about the people you lead they care about you – followers don’t want to disappoint leaders who care about them. I am convinced this is a powerful leadership truth. Whether you are encouraging or correcting, it must be evident in all that you do that you care. So your final assignment as this Christmas approaches is to ask yourself how well you know the people you are leading and how well they know you. If you have well developed relationships, you are doing the work of a good leader, keep it up. If you’ve lost touch, if you’re spending too much time in your office and not enough on the shop floor resolve to get out more – Christmas is a great time to make a start.

We all know how the story ended. After a visit from three apparitions Ebenezer had a change of heart. He became the best of leaders, illustrating the last and most important lesson: a change in the right direction can have a dramatic effect on everyone involved. Merry Christmas all, let us all try to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long.

Looking to add to your leadership skill set, check out my book, The Heart and Hands of Leadership: The Twelve Timeless Practices of Effective Leaders, 160 pages, published in June 2014