People often get promoted to leadership positions without knowing how to communicate an inspiring strategic vision to the people who report to them. So they focus on what they know: tactics, not strategy. As a result, they become stuck in micromanagement mode.
Dianna Booher wants to prevent micromanagement before it happens by providing you with the right leadership communication skills. Grounded in extensive research, this book offers practical guidelines to help professionals think, coach, converse, speak, write, meet, and negotiate strategically to deliver results. In thirty-six brief chapters, Booher shows you how to communicate effectively to audiences up and down the organization so you can fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader.
Winner of the 2018 Axiom Award Silver Medal in the Networking Category.
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Communicate Like A Leader
Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done
By Dianna Booher
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Dianna Booher
All rights reserved.
Communicating as a Leader and as a Manager
The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.
— HENRY DRUMMOND, 18TH-CENTURY ENGLISH BANKER, AUTHOR, AND MEMBER OF THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT
When my client Mitch visited our office, he had both good news and bad news. "Let me give you the good news first. ... A couple of partners and I just bought a telecom at a great price — basically a spin-off of the entire division I used to manage."
"That is great news." I followed up with several questions and learned that the spin-off he referred to was from a nationally known company that had downsized his entire division.
"The downsizing didn't sound exactly like good news at the time," Mitch continued. "But it has turned out that way. That is, if we can make a go of this telecom venture."
"Well, I'd say you're off to a good start. Everything sounds like good news so far," I said.
"Right. ... Well, here's the bad news: I've placed about 40 to 45 technical experts in leadership roles. Brilliant at their individual jobs — don't get me wrong. But they've had only limited experience as managers. At best, they were supervisors at their old jobs. ... They have the technical know-how. But now they need to communicate with their peers in other areas, deal with customers and suppliers, and interact with the executive leaders on the new team."
I nodded, not wanting to interrupt to tell him how common his story sounded.
"They're communicating at about this level," Mitch 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 repeated the gesture at hairline level.
Our communication consulting firm hears this complaint frequently regarding how staff members deliver executive briefings and write sales proposals.
"If I can give you these people for a few days, can you teach them what they need to know to become real leaders — not just good in their functional roles?"
Music to my ears. I always love hearing someone voice the difference between managing (maintaining the status quo) and leading (improving the status quo).
You may hire a financial advisor to "manage" your money during a great bull market. He or she may help you reorganize your investments: consolidate your accounts from two different organizations into one bank account, project your future income needs for a child's education or your own retirement, and consolidate your mutual fund investments into fewer families of funds. But after a year, if that person is not increasing the value of your investment portfolio, you'll probably be looking for a new financial advisor. You want someone who can improve the situation, not simply maintain it.
That distinction between leader and manager may have absolutely nothing to do with position or title. You can lead as a project team member, an association member, a parent, a researcher, a customer, or an assistant.
Consider the nine differences between leaders and maintained in the following chart.
As you plan strategic communication — whether for a conversation, a briefing, a report, a meeting, or an email — keep in mind these principles: The right timing. A clear conclusion. Specific application to your audience. Simple, tactful, concerned phrasing. The why behind the decision or action. Inspiration. The right thing to do. We'll dig deeper into all these principles as we move further through the book.
The manager's goal: Smooth, flawless operations.
The leader's goal: Improve the situation. "Up" the game or performance. Increase the value or asset.CHAPTER 2
Have a Ready Answer for THIS One Key Question — Always
Like a diaphanous nightgown, language both hides and reveals.
— karen Elizabeth gordon, author
As a leader, you hear questions every day, some serious, some trivial. "What do you hear about the merger plans?" "Do you think our budget is going to be cut?" "Can we get an extension on the deadline?" "Are we going to have to work over the weekend?"
But the ONE question that you have to answer correctly every time is this: "What are you working on?"
It's particularly critical that you get the answer right when responding to your boss. Your reputation can also suffer when you flub that question with peers.
WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?
For the most part, you and your team need to communicate details to run your project, department, or division. For that, you need charts, graphs, slides, spreadsheets, meetings, presentations, proposals, metrics, and reports. You accomplish things with these tools, and the associated data make perfect sense to you. The abbreviations, acronyms, illustrations, and other shortcuts save you time and ensure a common understanding.
So you have a tendency to try to communicate with the same tools and in that same fashion to those outside your functional area.
That jargon, those communication tools, and that level of detail won't make sense to people on the outside. They'll likely conclude that you don't know how to synthesize, summarize, and interpret how your work contributes to the big picture of the organization.
Granted, habits are difficult to break. But they can hinder communication and halt your career growth.
SO HOW SHOULD YOU ANSWER THAT ONE QUESTION?
Put aside your complicated tools. Forget how much effort you've put into the project. Time spent does not equal value created. Instead, focus on these few things to answer the big question:
Part 1: We're working on solving X problem(s).
Part 2: Here's why it matters to the organization....
Part 3: Here are the outcomes we're working toward....
Part 4: (Optional — depending on who asked the question) This is how the work may affect the budget and timeline as far as you're concerned....
HOW DO YOU EDUCATE OTHERS OUTSIDE YOUR FUNCTIONAL AREA?
You shouldn't and you don't.
If you do, you'll be irrelevant. While coaching sales teams on presentations or sales proposals, I frequently hear such comments as "We have to educate our customers on our product" or "Our customers really don't understand how best to use our process and the services we provide, so our real challenge is to educate them on exactly what we do."
I have to bite my tongue to keep from shouting, "How insulting to your customers!" That's like saying, "We need smarter customers." Very few customers will likely agree with you on that.
Ditto with internal customers. They don't want to be "educated" about what you're doing. They want you to be educated about what they're doing and then translate what you're doing for them. In other words, get aboard their train.
SO WHAT'S YOUR REAL JOB AS A STRATEGIC THINKER AND LEADER?
Become a translator: "So what that means for you (for the organization, for our customers, for our partners, for our suppliers) is that ..."
Sift through and analyze the metrics, data, and details needed for your functional role. Then draw some conclusions about the bigger picture: How does your work benefit them? Their budget? Their deadlines? Their costs? Their savings? Their profits? Their processes? Make their work easier? But never pass on your raw information.
Instead, communicate clearly an answer to this ONE question: "What are you working on?" And if your answer is strategic (relevant, tailored, and timely), the listener will care.
That's relevancy. And staying relevant is a leader's strategic responsibility.CHAPTER 3
Make Sure tie Team Knows tie Deliverables
The two words "information" and "communication" are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.
— Sydney j. harris, humorist
It's not enough that you can answer the one question about what you're "working on." Are you sure your own team knows the outcomes they're responsible to deliver?
In survey after survey, managers report that their team understands organizational goals and initiatives. Yet team members themselves say they do not. In a recent worldwide Gallup poll among 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees, only 50 percent of employees "strongly agreed" that they knew what was expected of them at work. Obviously, there's a disconnection here.
Consider this all-too-likely scenario: A dad says to a disappointed teen after his prom plans with friends fall through because of transportation costs, "Don't worry, son. I'll see that you have transportation to the prom." Overhearing the conversation, the mom expects the dad to offer their son the family Lexus. The son walks away thinking, "Great. Dad's going to pay for a limo." On prom weekend, when his dad arranges his work schedule to be home to drive his son and his date to the prom in the family car, somebody's sure to be disappointed.
The same happens with staff at work. Expectations and outcomes don't always align. For example: The vice president expects the social marketing campaign to generate 500 inquiries on the new product within the two-week launch period. The actual outcome from the social media team's effort results in a 60 percent increase in visits to the company website but only 52 inquiries on the new product.
Leadership demands communicating a clear vision and goals, encouraging your team to collaborate on the strategic plan, and then inspiring followers to deliver specific outcomes. But let's face it: As the Gallup survey suggests, many leaders fall flat on their face when it comes to communicating the expected outcomes clearly. And the more times and the more layers of the organization that those goals need to travel through, the more chances that things get "lost in translation."
The following attitudes and practices signal danger. Consider the accompanying safeguards.
INCONSISTENCY VERSUS CONSISTENCY
Ineffective leaders fear that others will "catch them" in inconsistencies. As much as possible, these leaders stay behind closed doors.
Effective leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. They never fear that others will find a mismatch between words and action — between values they communicated in an all-hands meeting, for example, and what they're planning to do at an executive retreat. They don't have to remember what they told Rudy to make sure it "syncs" with how they told Gabriella to handle a similar issue. They practice consistency.
UNWILLINGNESS TO ADMIT MISTAKES VERSUS ACCOUNTABILITY
Leaders expect their team members to own a problem, a task, a project — to take responsibility and see it through to completion. That's why it's devastating to their own credibility and to team morale when leaders refuse to clearly communicate, "I made a mistake." "I misjudged the situation in that I should have considered X." "I didn't react appropriately." Failure to "own up" sets up a mindset for failure to deliver.
Effective leaders shoulder responsibility and accept accountability as a visible part of their role.
THE ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL PERSPECTIVE VERSUS PERSONALIZATION
Struggling communicators plan their messages (emails, speeches, briefings, announcements, webcasts) with a one-size-fits-all mentality: to "the team," "their staff," "the company." That is, struggling leaders think of the universality of what they need to communicate; as a result, their comments become vague and general.
Effective leaders, as they communicate, consider their team of individual performers — not a group that acts and responds collectively. Why will Janet, Barry, Haroon, and Eduardo care about this? In what ways does the message apply specifically to how these people do their jobs? If you're encouraging your team to find ways to cut costs during the next quarter, use an example of saving $8,000 on paper supplies that Barry might identify with, along with the cost-cutting example of saving $100,000 by using temporary rather than full-time employees — an example that Janet would identify with as manager of a much larger division. These two very specific case studies would communicate to the entire team that you're familiar with how they individually contribute to the team.
Rather than babbling about diluted abstractions, strong leaders provide specifics. Their conversations, briefings, and emails are focused, practical, and relevant.
Such personalized communication elicits individual engagement and commitment — in much the same way a personal invitation to a party gets an answer and a Facebook post to a group of 80 may or may not.
WAR STORIES AND VICTORY LAPS VERSUS HERO HIGHLIGHTS
Struggling leaders typically tell a lot of this-is-how-I-did-it war stories as they share initiatives and launch new projects. People learn from the past, of course, and you want the past to serve you well. But taking victory laps rather than forging on to the future weakens you in the eyes of your followers.
Stronger communicators more often tell this-is-how-they-did-it hero stories that showcase other employees' successes on the job. Consider the strategic difference in morale in making others the heroes in your stories. You've seen many companies use this approach in their TV commercials. A video highlights key employees, who relate why they became an engineer, a scientist, or a physicist at XYZ corporation. These featured employees become the "face" for the big corporation.
You can do the same as a leader to build your team members' morale. When you celebrate wins, tell their individual stories and contributions — not just yours and not just the stories of the collective team.
DON'T-MAKE-ME DEMEANOR VERSUS OPEN BODY LANGUAGE
As a parent, have you ever warned your quarreling kids, "Don't make me have to come to your room to settle this"? Or maybe you remember your own parent's dire warning: "Don't make me stop this car to see what this is all about!" Or, "Don't make me send you away from the table without dinner!" All said with the appropriate scowl, tone of voice, and wagging finger.
Struggling leaders often appear to be in similar pain as they communicate a challenging new mission: negative words, nervous gestures, fatigued expression, angry tone, glaring eyes, frustrated frown, doubtful shrug, slumped shoulders, and defeated stare. All of this negative body language stands in the way of communicating clearly with your staff. Consider it a blockade to delivering anything of value — internally or externally.
By contrast, effective communicators know that their body language and behavior trump their words at this strategic time. Rather than a gloom-and-doom-delivery, their facial expression and gestures are positive, open, energetic, warm, and affirming. Their body language shows excitement about the vision and confidence in the team to deliver the desired outcome. They smile sincerely. They often ditch the desk barrier in favor of sitting side by side with the other person. If speaking to a larger group, they approach them rather than stand behind the barrier of a lectern. They extend their hands and arms, greeting others and welcoming questions rather than pulling back or standing rigidly in place as if expecting to be the target for darts.
Your "visual" counts. Check a mirror occasionally — particularly on tense days in tough situations.
INEFFECTIVE VERSUS EFFECTIVE VERIFICATION QUESTIONS
Great leaders understand the strategic importance of continually verifying that team members understand the expected outcomes for the internal or external client — annual, quarterly, or project deliverables, along with the metrics used to track performance.
So what's the least effective way to verify with your staff or a peer? By asking, "Do you understand?" Confident team members invariably say yes. They want to please.
But the most effective leaders verify for themselves strategic steps. They test understanding by asking thoughtful questions and listening carefully to the responses. Depending on the project, you might ask one or several of these questions:
What kind of pushback do you think we might get on this idea from those directly affected?
What will be key steps in your process to roll out this project next quarter?
What's a realistic date to complete a project like this?
What suppliers do you think we should involve?
Do you anticipate any delays along the way as we work on this initiative?
The budget I've set aside is $X.
Does that amount seem sufficient?
What concerns do you have at this point?
As staff members respond to your questions, you can verify for yourself their understanding of your goals and their expected deliverables — while there's still time to make a course correction or amplify.
Leaving this strategic alignment of goals and expectations to chance can sink your ship before it leaves the harbor.
Excerpted from Communicate Like A Leader by Dianna Booher. Copyright © 2017 Dianna Booher. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction The Challenge of Leadership Communication 1
Part 1 Strategic Leadership: Think Long-Term Investment in People and Payoff
Chapter 1 Communicating as a Leader and as a Manager 11
Chapter 2 Have a Ready Answer for THIS One Key Question-Always 15
Chapter 3 Make Sure the Team Knows the Deliverables 18
Chapter 4 Build a Culture of Trust 24
Chapter 5 Hire Based on Core Character and Competency 27
Chapter 6 Nix Micromanaging and Other Negatives 32
Chapter 7 Squelch the Urge to Hoard 36
Chapter 8 Guide With Strategic Questions 39
Chapter 9 Dislodge Log-Jamming Directives 42
Chapter 10 Become a Coach, Not a Critic 45
Chapter 11 Give Kudos That Count 49
Chapter 12 Fire People to Be Fair 52
Chapter 13 Energize Rather Than Demoralize 56
Chapter 14 Course-Correct Quickly After Bad Decisions 60
Chapter 15 Develop Your People 64
Part 2 Strategic Conversations: Connect With Intent
Chapter 16 Be Intentional About Your Communication Standards 73
Chapter 17 Be a Leader Who Laughs 78
Chapter 18 Respond Promptly in the Age of Twitter 83
Chapter 39 Learn to Apologize or Pay The Penalty 86
Chapter 20 Keep Your Networks Active 89
Part 3 Strategic Negotiations: Look for Mutual Opportunities
Chapter 21 Determine Your Goals, Value, and Walk-Away Point 97
Chapter 22 Adopt Strategic Negotiation Practices 101
Chapter 23 Aim to do the Second Deal 105
Part 4 Strategic Speaking: Persuade Minds and Win Hearts
Chapter 24 Increase Your Executive Presence 111
Chapter 25 Dump Your Data to a Storyline 117
Chapter 26 Engage With Great Stories 121
Chapter 27 Be Brief or Be Dismissed 128
Chapter 28 Prepare for Off-the-Cuff Comments 131
Part 5 Strategic Writing: Write to the Point
Chapter 29 Let Them See How You Think 137
Chapter 30 Trust the TA-DA Template™ 142
Chapter 31 Use Social Media Strategically-Don't Spray Paint 146
Part 6 Strategic Meetings: Deliver Results When You Meet
Chapter 32 Consider a Meeting Before the Meeting 155
Chapter 33 Plug Power Into Your Agenda 157
Chapter 34 Make Little Meeting Matters a Big Deal 160
Chapter 35 Meet Like You Mean Business 164
Chapter 36 Know Your Meeting ROI 169
Next Steps 173
About the Author 189
How to Work With Dianna Booher and Booher Research 191