A colleague of mine shares a funny but helpful story on ineffective feedback. She was a co-owner of a small business and the co-owners decided they needed to terminate one of their employees after a long and unsuccessful progressive discipline attempt. Her business partner was a nice guy but had trouble delivering tough messages. Since he had hired the employee he wanted to deliver the news. He met with the terminated employee for an hour and later reported to my colleague that it was a tough meeting but it went well and he had asked the fired employee to pack up his office at the end of the day and wished him luck.
Much to her surprise the next day the “fired” employee was at his desk working away. Her co-owner had been so unclear, so indirect and so muddled that the employee had no clue that he had been terminated! Not effective feedback at all.
As this article in the New York Times reminds us, the purpose of feedback is to help people do better, not feel better. Both positive and negative feedback need to be straightforward. Being direct and clear is key to effective feedback and will improve leadership communication. The What and Why model I learned a number of years ago can help leaders overcome the tendency to over-complicate feedback and keep it focused. Effective feedback only needs to include – and must include:
- What specifically the person did, said, or didn’t do. The behavior or action that you want to reinforce or needs to be changed. Stated directly, specifically and clearly. No extra explanations or editorializing – “just the facts!”
- Why it matters. A short but direct statement that describes the impact or consequences of the action or behavior. Either positive or negative. Again, no editorializing or explanations at this time.
Nothing more and nothing less.
One key communication challenge for leaders is the ability to clearly explain the purpose of the message. Are you looking for feedback? Seeking alternate opinions? Informing people about a decision? Or are you just thinking out loud?
We’ve all heard (or personally experienced) stories about mis-matches of intent. For example, I know of a local organization that was visited by an enterprise leader from New York. While complimenting them on their facilities, the leader mentioned that the front lobby would be a great place for a fountain. A few weeks later he received plans and a price estimate for installing a fountain. As you probably guessed, the leader was just making an observation. He had no desire to spend money or staff time on implementing it!
Leaders need to communicate differently, because their words carry more weight. What strategies do you use to explain your point?
“Great communication – no matter the topic – always connects with people’s feelings and with what they find meaningful.”
John Kotter from his latest book, Accelerate: XLR8
Can you remember projects that you “got to” work on compared to projects that you “had to” work on. The feeling of energy and the opportunity to do work that made a difference. I recently listened to one of our state university presidents talk about the amazing and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to contribute to transforming higher education. All of us felt the emotion in his message and it resonated with meaning for each of us.
In his latest book, XLR8, John Kotter shares ideas to help leaders communicate in a way that creates this type of “get-to” mindset. Communication that “captures people’s attention in a way that almost compels” them to engage in their work with messages that describe both the urgency and the opportunity to make a difference in a meaningful way.
A starting point for leaders is to focus and align people’s energy and enthusiasm using what Kotter calls “Big Opportunity” statements. These statements must include both emotion and reason. At Minnesota State Colleges and Universities we have an opportunity in front of us that is described in the following statement:
Charting the Future is a strategic effort to help change how we work and encourage collaboration among MnSCU institutions to better prepare our students for success and achieving a more prosperous Minnesota. We are imagining a better world for our students, our colleges and universities, and our communities across the state.
Creating “Big Opportunity” statements that are realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable can help you connect with both your people’s heads and hearts. “Big opportunity” statements are:
- Short: Less than one page so they are easy to share and can reach more people.
- Rational: They need to make sense in the current reality so they are not dismissed immediately.
- Emotionally Compelling: Speak to the hearts of all relevant audiences.
- Positive: Focus on the opportunity and what “burning desire” people have to make a difference.
- Authentic: It feels real, is believed in by you and demonstrates your level of excitement.
- Clear: Provide clarity and focus.
- Aligned: Supports or is consistent with existing mission or vision statements.
Leaders who are able to communicate with their heart and heads can unlock the potential and passion of the people they lead.
Posted in building teams, change and transition, communication, Engagement, higher education, Leadership, Motivation
Tagged Change, communication, engagement, higher education, Leadership, values, vision
Last week I listened to four of our presidents answer the question, “why would I ever want to be a president?” at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Executive Leader Development seminar. Each of them shared a story with our participants that made us smile, or cringe, or laugh, or even tear up a bit. The communication styles were very different but what made each message powerful was how it captured our hearts in one way or another. We actually could feel why they loved being a president!
Their messages reminded me of Anita’s post, “Know your why” from January of this year. Each president was able to effectively communicate their why. Over the weekend I discovered a set of YouTube talks by Simon Sinek, the author of “Start With Why.” If you are looking for ideas to sharpen your communication and capture the hearts of your people Sinek provides a framework and examples in each video. I hope you find them as valuable as I did.
The first video answers the question I posed in the title, “How to begin your presentation.”
He reminds us to:
- leave the facts and figures until later
- start with the feeling or emotion you want everyone to walk away with
- use stories or images
During the month of April we will be sharing additional ideas, examples and resources on effective leadership communication. I invite you to share with your fellow readers any resources you have found valuable as you developed your communication style.
I’m seeing a pattern. As we were writing last month about building relationships and valuing diversity, the conversation often turned to communication.
We discussed everything from overcoming Minnesota Nice to learning from other disciplines to being stuck at the airport with a colleague. In all these situations, one element of success was building genuine dialogue.
It seems to make sense that the next MnSCU leadership competency is communicating effectively. This month we’ll look at ways to:
- Effectively convey ideas and share information with others using appropriate methods
- Listen carefully and understand differing points of view
- Present ideas clearly and concisely
Have you found that communication is often a building block to achieving your leadership goals?
Dee Anne Bonebright