How great leaders should communicateBY JOVINA ANG
I am very fortunate to have a mentor who told me the importance of communication very early on in my career. I can still vividly recall her words; “The three most important skills a leader must have are: great communication skills, great presentation skills and great writing skills. Every other skill you can outsource or hire someone to fill the gap. But, you can’t outsource communication skills.”
This is so true when I look at the great leaders of Singapore and globally. The one skill that distinguishes great leaders is communication. The importance of communication cannot be understated in today’s working environment – highly matrixed, across borders and cultures, and cluttered with emails.
Motivating employees is already a tough enough role that leaders play; getting employees to perform their best across borders requires a lot more skills and effort. That’s why mastering communication is such an invaluable skill for a leader.
Communication allows leaders to get personal with their employees, and in so doing, builds connections and bonds with them or what Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind call “building intimacy” to achieve mental and emotional proximity especially when physical proximity is not feasible.
In Asia, where there is a war for talent, building personal connections is paramount as many studies have shown that employees leave bosses, not organisations.
So, how can leaders get personal and connect with employees?
Be authentic: Be who you are and not try to be someone else. People trust you and want to know you when you are genuine and authentic, and not an imitation of someone else. In Bill George’s book, “Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value”, he describes authentic leaders as leaders who are passionate about their purpose, true to their values and lead with their hearts and minds.”
Be visible and reach out to all levels of the organisation: Have an open-door policy and reach out directly to all employees in your organisation. Video is a great medium because it allows leaders to build emotional and mental proximity as employees can see how you communicate and not just read or hear what you say.
By seeing how you communicate, employees can feel the passion and excitement of what you are trying to say. At work, we’ve been using a video podcast campaign – “5-minute Friday” to connect with 5,000 employees across 17 countries in Asia with success.
Be a great listener: Communication is a two-way dialogue and it involves both speaking and listening. The act of listening lets leaders show that they care for employees, and that their views are important.
Be succinct and consistent in your messaging: Time is such a precious commodity in today’s working environment, especially when there’s an underlying expectation “to do more with less”. In a fast moving industry like Information Technology, where it’s common to receive 200 emails a day, there’s just simply not enough time to read every email or listen to/watch a podcast thoroughly. Hence, it’s important to keep messages simple and succinct, and consistent with the organisational strategy.
Succinct communication aids employee understanding and drives alignment of employees to the strategy and direction that a leader has set.
Be open to feedback: I am a firm believer that feedback makes us all better in what we do. Encourage feedback, and more importantly, thank employees who give you feedback. After all, feedback is one of the greatest gifts people can give us. When leaders are open to feedback, employees also become more willing to give us feedback, and through this interaction, leaders can strengthen connections with their employees.