In April of this year, technology mogul Elon Musk tweeted out that “people are overrated.” While he would later explain that he was referring to the power of robotics and the emerging technology in both robotics and artificial intelligence, I can’t help but think of how destructive that nineteen-character tweet was to his organization? Musk worked diligently to surround himself with really bright and intelligent people that spend a considerable amount of time and energy on his research and engineering projects. Robotics maybe an emerging technology but people are not overrated. I learned long ago that words have meaning; your words as a leader have immense power. Words send a strong message to the people who work with and for you in your organization.
Here is a fundamental truth about organizational performance. The majority of people you know, yourself included, desire highly effective, functional relationships – personal, familial, and professional.
Here is the reality check. Few people are willing to do the hard work at the essential level to sustain and create those relationships. One of the key ways we, as leaders, can develop and maintain highly effective relationships, is to learn to communicate effectively with the people around us.
Communicating with other people is a life essential. Effective communication, as Simon Sinek might say, is a tribal instinct essential to appropriate bonding within a host of relationships. We communicate everyday—all day—with people in our workplaces, our friends, our families, and strangers in a host of communal locations. The point of this discussion is simple: to add meaning, value, and purpose to our lives, we need to be able to have effective communication with people in a variety of roles in our lives. Stephen R. Covey may have said it best in 7 Habits when he advised that we are to “seek to understand before we demand to be understood.”
History is replete with failure in execution in a host of examples from business, politics, health care, and the military related to ineffective, incomplete, and unclear communication. The reality is that your ability to communicate as leader is of critical importance. In a recent survey of recruiters from companies with more than 50,000 employees, communication skills were cited as the single most important decisive factor in choosing managers. The survey, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Business School, points out that communication skills, including written and oral presentations, as well as an ability to work with others, are the main factors contributing to job success. Once again we see that behaviour is a key contributing factor to performance excellence and communication is certainly a behaviour skill if nothing else.
We have all been taught that the key to communication is listening. This is true, but you first must care before you can listen to understand effectively. Effective communication, as a highly influential trust behaviour, requires caring first, and seeking to understand before demanding to be understood. An old adage is applicable here: I do not care in how much you know, until you demonstrate to me how much you care. Displaying behaviour of compassion to another person opens their brain up to a willingness to listen. When people make a decision to shut you out of their lives because of your behaviour, effective communication with those people ceases.
One of the downsides to the advancements in mobile technology is that people’s verbal skills are actually decreasing as a result of constant emailing and texting. Whatever the fundamental driver that inhibits and prohibits people from being able to communicate effectively, whether CEO or new hire in the mail room, such a refusal perpetuates ill will and wreaks havoc in workplace engagement, productivity, and performance.
When we begin to examine the nature of relationships in our organizations we can gain understanding as to the value and the power of being able express ourselves, our intentions, and our shared values to connect with peers and subordinates to drive engagement and peak organizational performance. None of that can occur until individual leaders are willing to put in the effort to effectively communicate with those around them. As leaders, we may think we have the best ideas, vision, and direction to take our organizations to higher levels of performance. But if we cannot effectively communicate that vision or direction, and if we do not manage how fast we try to communicate in a complex and chaotic work environment, we will be unable to translate those ideas from strategy to an operational reality. Remember, performance is as much about the people and their ability to execute a good plan as it is about the plan itself.
Learning to communicate effectively as leaders is all about becoming aware of the diversity of talent we have around us, and then engaging in methodical and consistent efforts to connect with people in a positive, emotional connection to create engagement of their talent. Doing so improves your effectiveness in key relationships, increases your level of leadership influence, and ultimately drives peak performance in your organization. A positive emotional connection begins with the skill of Positive Presence — a new and deliberate way of thinking and behaving that makes the connection between emotional energy and behaviour for effective communication.