Leadership: Good or Bad, It’s All About the Communication

All eyes turned towards the manager as she gave her opinion of a strategy that was being discussed.

This was part of the strategic meeting with the leadership team, with the C-Level executive sitting at the head of the table. As she walked through her reasoning, everyone was nodding their head in agreement. She was always seen as one of the thinkers, a person who always brought something to the table.

Here’s the problem with this scenario: the C-Level executive looked her in the eye as the manager gave her thoughts. When she finished, the executive turned, glanced around the room, and quickly moved to another topic.

As they say in the movie business — CUT.

An astonishing story

I was astonished in hearing that story. You call a meeting with your leadership team, all in the spirit of collaboration, and you just ignore someone after they make a presentation?

My question was, why do you think this happened? “She always does that to anyone that offers up ideas — no acknowledgment, no discussion, just cut and move to the next topic,” was what I was told.

That is, unless the so-called favorites speak up — and then the sea parts.

Clueless leadership

One of the top competencies of leaders is the ability to communicate. The inability to do this has cost companies a lot of money. They may not have actually calculated it, but think turnover, think engagement, think unmotivated employees. All of these are symptoms of simply not communicating.

The inability to learn and master this life skill wastes so much time, especially when you turn on the talent spigot. That constant drip of of bad behavior allows all your talent to look elsewhere. Communication is the backbone of staying connected, attracting a following, and really leading.

I am a big believer that when recruiting talent, especially at or near the top, communication ability should be the top bullet. Check out any great leader and you will find a person that is able to connect and make everyone feel as if they are a part of the game.

Poor communicators? They can’t lead

Anyone that wants to be a leader must know that improving communication is not just a matter of checking the box. You are setting an example for others to follow. Leaders need to know that improving their communications is an important means of setting direction for others to follow. Poor communicators cannot lead.

This big shot leader from this story was sending a clear message that she could care less what other people are saying. She was sending signals that she played favorites. Only the select few would get the proverbial pat on the back or that coveted acknowledgment from her.

This kind of situation can cause impressionable managers to start thinking that, “when I reach that level, this is the way I want to run my meeting.” On the other hand, others hands find it despicable.

Leaders set the example

When I grew up as a kid, we would always eat dinner together as a family. Everyone joined in the conversation about their day. Everyone was listened to, everyone was acknowledged. Sometimes my brothers and I would say the most ridiculous things, but no one was ever shouted down or ignored.

As a leader, everyone is looking up to you: watching, modeling, and learning your behavior, making it the textbook to follow whether you like it or not. Communicating is a two-way street and as you learn from me, I should also being learning from you — learning about your insights and the way you problem solve.

Leaders must be the compass that drives their people towards their goal, and that is not only the corporate goal but life goals as well.

We are all leaders in some way

Some of you may read this article and equate leadership with an organization, but we are all leaders. We all make impressions on people.

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I watched the NFL Hall of Fame awards recently, and I was struck by how these grown men emotionally talked about the people that affected them as they grew up to become professionals. Some had tears rolling down their face as they told about situations that these people put them through.

I sat in awe of some of these stories, and had tears in my eyes as they concluded. That is what leadership is about. Here were men who could think back to their youth and still recount the stories as to how these leaders shaped their lives.

One talked about his high school coach, while another talked about his grandmother. How is that for the leadership scale? His grandmother showed him discipline and showed him how to handle failures, showed him how to respect people for the person — and not what they have done, and can do, for you.

Look in the mirror

I wonder how that C-Level executive would be remembered as their direct reports’ lives splinter into different directions in years to come?

Michael Jackson has a song that I love that is called Man in the Mirror. In these simple lyrics it captures the essence of what leadership and communication is about

I’m starting with the man in the mirror

I’m asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make a change

May we all look in the mirror each day and make a change for the better.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


2 Comments on “Leadership: Good or Bad, It’s All About the Communication

  1. Great post. The executive from your opening story needs to remember that every communication leaves an impression. Leaders often are very conscious of perfecting communications during official presentations and meetings. However, every conversation and interaction, no matter how big or small, has an impact on employees’ perception and engagement with you as a leader, their motivation, and the organization. Effective leaders communicate to support three psychological needs that accelerate internal motivation– Competence, Relatedness, and Autonomy. Leadership is in large part about getting work done through others—a real challenge if leaders do not have the ability to create an environment of supportive and clear communication.

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