Leadership Articles: TALKING LEADERSHIP


A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
January 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor

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Communication That Builds Engagement

Just about everyone accepts that communication is an essential leadership practice, but why? Strong communication skills boost performance by sending the message that the leader trusts the team and they build engagement. We talk to people we care about, and this is the message good communicators send.

So how do the most effective leaders communicate? The first method is the simplest - they spend time with followers. They lead from the front. As the president of a large daily newspaper I spent a lot of time talking with the members of my team. At least once a week I would take a couple of hours and walk through the departments, stopping to talk for even a few minutes with as many people as I could. I ate in the cafeteria regularly, because it gave me another opportunity to spend time with people. We talked about families, interests, sons and daughters; and we talked about how the work was going. I learned a lot from those conversations and I built relationships. So important were my departmental walkabouts that I had an arrangement with my executive assistant such that if I had gone the week without this walkabout, she was to remind me on Friday afternoon. She didn't need to very often, but every now and then I had a really hectic week and forgot. Gail let me know and I got up from my desk and took my walk - it was always one of the best parts of the week for me.

My walkabouts always took me to the call centre that was our classified advertising department. During an eight month labour dispute, this was among the many departments that remained on the job, it was a difficult test for everyone. That Christmas the men and women of the department sent me a Christmas card filled with many heartfelt handwritten encouragements. Here were the members of our team, thinking to encourage me! That card is now framed in my home office and remains one of my favourite mementos. That department was filled with people who did more than I could have hoped for to contribute through a difficult time, they were fully engaged. Remember, we talk to people we care about. They cared about me because they knew I cared about them. Leaders who don't spend time this way with people are missing a great opportunity.

Good leaders also send the message they care by sharing information. You cannot expect followers to fully contribute to your plans when you don't fully share them. If you want an engaged team, you must engage them.

We can learn much from the story of Canadian Major-General Arthur Currie. After failed attempts by both the French and British to take the WW1 stronghold of Vimy Ridge from the Germans, the mission fell to the Canadian First Division led by Currie. After months of scrupulous planning and rehearsal Currie's troops attacked on April 9, 1917, three days later they had succeeded. Why? Currie was a good planner but he also did something that was revolutionary at the time - he shared the mission's maps and detailed plans with his troops. Before Currie, these were considered strictly the property of officers. Everyone who participated had a detailed understanding of the mission. Currie figured out that more information was better than less and introduced a new approach to leadership that has since been widely adopted. The right communication builds engagement and sends a powerful message of trust.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much time are you spending with the people you lead?
  2. How fully do you share detailed mission plans with your team?
  3. What is the team effect when leaders are believed to be withholding information?

To sharpen your team's leadership skills call or write to learn more about a half-day workshop or speaking engagement.

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A Feature Article from Gaynor Consulting Inc.
January 2013   |   By Dan Gaynor


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