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3 Strategies to Connect as a Leader

by Dianna Booher

Clark, my client, stopped by our office unexpected:  “I have good news and bad news. The good news first. . . . A couple of partners and I just bought a small telecom—a spinoff of the division I managed before we all got laid off.”

“Sounds like great news,”  I said.

“Maybe. If we can make a go of it.”

“The bad news?”

“I’ve placed about 45 technical people in leadership spots.. Brilliant at their individual jobs—don’t get me wrong. But they’ve had only limited experience as managers. At best, some were supervisors in their old jobs. . . .  They have the technical skills. But now they need to interact with their peers in other divisions, deal with customers and suppliers, and communicate with the executives on the new team.”

I nodded. Common story.

“They’re communicating at about this level,” he gestured with a wave of his hand about mid-thigh, as if measuring the height of a small child.  “And I need them to start thinking and communicating from this perspective.” He gestured at hairline level.

When leaders struggle, it’s easy to pinpoint the defective leadership communication habits. Here are three sound practices from Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done that can improve things for them and their team:

3 Strategies to Connect and Communicate Like a Leader

Translate Your Work to the Strategic Difference

As a manager, you deal with questions every day; some trivial, some serious.  “What do you hear about the downsizing plans?” “Will our budget be cut?”  “Can we get an extension on the project deadline?”

But the ONE question that you as a leader have to answer correctly every time is this:  “What are you working on?”

It’s especially critical that you get the answer correct when you’re the leader—and when you’re representing an entire team. Otherwise, you could find your team downsized because your function doesn’t seem vital to the organization.

So never communicate outside your functional area with “inside” lingo and data. Instead, focus on answering the key questions: What big problems are you working to solve? Why do they matter to the division or organization? What outcomes are you hoping to achieve? (And depending on whom you’re talking to, you may want to add this: How will your work affect their budget or timeline?)

Stop Micromanagement

Employees grouse over lunch about micromanaging bosses, complain about them around the water cooler, and chew them up at the dinner table with family members. At the least, for the individual reporting to this kind of manager, frustration leads to deep-seated resentment that often triggers a job change or career move.

Building up this reservoir of resentment blocks all other meaningful communication with your staff.

  • Aim to avoid the habit of focusing on some inconsequential mistake rather than the staff member’s larger contribution.
  • Build trust rather than mistrust of others’ intentions.
  • Develop delegation skills so that you don’t fear losing control and being disappointed in project outcomes. If you have certain “right” way that things have to be done, state it. Otherwise, focus on state the goal, the deliverables, the deadline, the budget, and the checkback points you’re comfortable with and then hand them project off and with the stated authority.

Negotiate the First Situation With the Second in Mind

Negotiate each situation as if more important opportunities in the future will rest on the relationship developed in the current interaction. The failure to operate by this principle underscores why many business deals fall apart at the last minute: One or both parties lack basic respect and trust of the other because of the way they’ve been treated in the past. The deal comes down to the “heart [emotion] of the matter.”

When either party walks away from discussions on a sour note, it’s highly likely there’ll be no future interaction. No introductions to potential suppliers. No referrals to prospects. No good word passed on to potential top talent. No goodwill gestures in the current working relationship.

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