Leadership isn’t easy. There’s a huge amount of pressure on leaders to understand the complexity of their industry and organization, lead projects, grow the business, as well as recognize team dynamics and nurture relationships.
Many leaders have reached the top by specializing in a specific area but lack the awareness of the importance of communication and listening. Without great communication, leading a team of people is impossible. Lack of communication creates a sense of chaos, which can quickly become toxic and manifest itself in many ways: team friction, people off on sick leave or stress, poor decision making and lack of accountability.
This is one of my favourite quotes from my book:
As a leader you should inspire, challenge and demonstrate a vision that people can follow. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change everything - the defining trait for leaders shouldn’t be their ability to transform - doing what you do well, focusing on the basics and becoming an impactful communicator is vital. Here are six leadership skills to master to improve your communication and team relationships:
This feels like something leaders are often told they don’t need, but research shows that vulnerability and courage go hand in hand. And with that, comes compassion. We’re all human and showing some of that in the workplace leads to more genuine relationships and builds trust. Part of this involves making time to talk to people and focus on the individual completely. I recommend putting time aside for regular one-to-one meetings with your team members, turning off any devices and taking notes. The insights gained with be invaluable and by responding compassionately your relationships at work will flourish too.
2. Look after yourself
One of my favourite book titles is: Your Oxygen Mask First. The book explains the habits that high achievers can develop to survive and thrive in leadership. This is exactly the approach that’s needed – look after yourself first. You’re the most important and it’s essential to focus on your health, wellbeing and building mental resilience to be able to lead others.
I talk about this a lot when I run mental resilience workshops for teams. Mental resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of trauma or stress. Taking time to understand yourself and your emotions helps you recognize stress, manage anxiety and engage the power of your mind. Developing routine practices that solve your stress-cycle can help avoid burnout. Whether it’s half an hour of yoga or a workout in the morning, a brisk walk at lunchtime or stopping to take three deep breaths – make time for you, every day.
This works both ways. It works every way. Respect must be given to everyone regardless of hierarchy. For some this comes naturally and for others it feels alien. Respect the time and expertise of others; you hired them for a reason. I talk a lot about how to narrow the say-do gap and respect and trust feeds into this. Make sure what you say you’ll do and what you actually do are the same. Consistent behavior builds trust and accountability as well as enhancing individual credibility and respect.
4. Time versus attention management
In Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much, Tony Crabbe shares some interesting research. Multitasking increases the time it takes to complete a task by 40%, and the optimal time for you to focus is around 52 minutes with a 17-minute break.
You need to focus your attention, not your time. The meetings and conversations are needed, so focus your attention on what will make a difference and add value; it’s not about time. It's about avoiding distractions and setting clear boundaries. Doing this enables us to manage our attention and achieve more, while also allowing ourselves essential time to recharge - that's being truly productive.
Knowing your limits is a huge strength in leadership. It’s hard to show vulnerability and let someone know you need help. I recommend you find your trusted circle and use them to help you navigate your growth. No one expects you to do this alone, so make sure you know when and how to ask for help if you feel a little lost. This isn’t a weakness; it’s an awareness that you can’t possibly know everything – that’s why you hired a diverse and talented team, right? You can reap huge rewards by asking for help.
Listening to those around you is a hugely important skill for leaders. A leader’s response when someone is sharing or talking has more weight than a peer. Remember that how you show you’re actively listening is equally important. I talk about this in my book:
Do your team members know you’re listening and that you care?
Chaos to calm
Helping organizations and teams move from chaos to calm is the reason I developed The Field ModelTM. There are three steps to the model: understand, diagnose and fix. It’s designed to get to the root cause of issues causing chaos. When I take people though this process, I regularly have conversations about situations that could be significantly improved by a leader honing their communication and listening skills. Leaders need to lead their team, department or organization with a clear vision and consistent, open communication. When this happens, I see leaders take huge strides forward towards removing chaos from their team and the wider organization and bringing a sense of calm.
Jenni is a business communications strategist and founder of Redefining Communications. Jenni developed The Field Model™, a tool to help organizations move from chaos to calm, which she describes in her book, Influential Internal Communication.