Effective communication is essential for every leader who wants to lead well. Many leaders and CEOs never understand the power of communicating the right message in the right way.
Diana Peterson-More recently addressed this topic in her newest book, Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times, A Practical Guide to Leadership. Diana has developed actionable, easy-to-implement, and practical steps to successful communication, which is the key to getting what we want from ourselves and others.
In a delightful and engaging discussion with Diana, I asked her to share her findings and insights for leaders related to effective communication.
In this conversation, Diana shares helpful tactics about modern business communication, the use of email, and practical applications on communication styles of leaders that will help a company to develop an empowering communication culture in their company.
Ken Gosnell: How does the praise of a leader help to build the culture of a company?
Diana Peterson-More: Today, many CEOs hire marketing gurus to develop snappy values-based words and phrases intended to create and sustain a culture. Some common words include: honesty, equality, inclusion, daring, candor, kindness, openness, integrity, courage, and respect.
Unless actions follow these admirable core values, they are meaningless. As it is oft said, “it’s not what you say; it’s what you do.” Leaders who look for opportunities to thank employees for having done something kind, and to praise employees for a job well done breathe life into key values.
Ken Gosnell: You examine the “Platinum Rule of Communication – to communicate with others the way they want to be communicated with,” in your book. Can you explain how a leader can discover and embrace this idea?
Diana Peterson-More: The “Golden Rule of Communication” is communicating with others the way we want to be communicated with, an admiral endeavor since it means treating others the way we want to be treated. To maximize our effectiveness, wouldn’t it be better to adopt the “Platinum Rule?”
This means communicating with others the way they want to be communicated with. Some employees take in information through verbal communication; others need something in writing; while others like to hear the information first, and then have it followed up in writing. How does a leader know which method to use with each employee? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking: How do you like to take in information?
Ken Gosnell: In your book, you suggest that, “verbal communication consists of listening, asking, and telling. Far too many of us do too much telling and too little listening and asking–especially bosses.” How can leaders shift from telling to asking?
Diana Peterson-More: Listening and asking are key leadership skills, which often require leaders to shift away from telling. An excellent way to get the ball rolling is for leaders to facilitate (vs. lead) brainstorming sessions and to adopt some simple ground rules that can assist with this shift:
- The leader speaks last;
- everyone participates;
- there are no bad ideas;
- and if an idea meets the needs of the topic that was brainstormed, then the leader should adopt it, vs. substituting his idea.
Ken Gosnell: Listening is an essential leadership skill. How can CEOs become better listeners?
Diana Peterson-More: Active listening is an essential leadership skill, and entails concentrating fully on what is being said, and demonstrating that one is fully engaged. It is a skill that can be acquired, and as with most things, practice makes perfect. A leader can do this by engaging their senses fully: make direct eye contact; a nod to signify understanding, and ask for clarification if unsure. For example, “I understood you to say, x, y, and z. Did I capture your thoughts?” Furthermore, “Oh, I guess I didn’t; please repeat.” The goal is to remain neutral, and to be open-minded. Silences are okay, too.
“Active listening is an essential leadership skill, and entails concentrating fully on what is being said, and demonstrating that one is fully engaged.”
Ken Gosnell: You discuss the power of I statements in your book. What is the best I statement a leader can make?
Diana Peterson-More: Tough to pick out one only. Here are a few I believe are the most powerful “I” statements a leader can make:
- I welcome your contributions.
- I’m glad that it worked out…
- I apologize: I goofed.
- I thank you for having done “X” (e.g., taken the risk, taken the initiative, thought of this great idea, etc.).
Ken Gosnell: You address the idea of overcoming perception by walking the second mile in another’s shoes. What are ways you have seen a leader walk in their followers’ shoes to better communicate with their team?
Diana Peterson-More: Leaders who know those who report to them are often able to ask themselves, “What might he/she think about . . . ”
In this day and age of privacy concerns and employers asking personal questions that can violate the law, the trick is to figure out how to truly get to know an employee without treading on his or her rights. A good rule of thumb is to let the employee lead, which they often do by what they choose to display in their offices or workspaces.
If an employee has a picture of a youth soccer team in his office, for instance, it’s okay to show sincere interest and ask, “Is there a family member in that photo?” This can lead to a discussion about being a proud sibling, parent or grandparent, coach, etc. Once a leader gets to know their employees, they can deliver and engage in special moments.
Ken Gosnell: Effective email communication is also essential. What are some practical tips you would encourage every CEO to embrace?
Diana Peterson-More: A couple of email ground-rules could be adopted:
- Ensure the subject line reflects the content of the email, and also includes a level of importance (e.g., For Information Only, Need Your Response by the End of the Day, Tomorrow, etc.
- Reread an email before sending it to ensure it adequately reflects your intention. If you’re unsure, ask someone else to read it and state how they understand its contents.
- Avoid short-hand sentences given they are often directive (e.g., avoid starting with “You . . .” since those statements often include “You should . . .”
- If you have an idea outside of office hours, particularly in the middle of the night, write it and send it to yourself, and then send it during working hours. If the email is to a non-exempt employee, it could mean over-time. If it’s to an exempt employee, the email might intimidate the recipient into believing you expect employees to keep the same hours.
Ken Gosnell: What is the most critical communication skill every leader needs to embrace to communicate with their team more effectively?
Diana Peterson-More: That’s a tough one, similar to which of your three children is your favorite? That said, if leaders adopt the listening and asking vs. telling, and truly embrace active listening, that can begin to cascade into embracing the other tips enumerated in the book.
When a leader communicates well to their team, the leader has a higher chance of success. Many leaders sabotage the success of the business because they have never learned how to communicate well. Learning how to apologize, how to listen effectively, so that team members feel heard, and how to communicate essential information in a timely manner are all critical habits that great leaders know how to master.
Ken Gosnell is the CEO and Servant Leader of CXP (CEO Experience). He serves leaders by helping them to have great experiences that both transform them and their organizations that enable to go further faster. He has worked with hundreds of CEOs and leadership teams to enhance strategic, operational and people accomplishments. He is an author, coach, and strategic partner with CEOs. Ken is the creator and facilitator of the Christian CEO Linkedin Group and creator of the CEO Experience Impact Assessment. He is married to Shonda, and they have four children. Connect with @ken_gosnell on Twitter.
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