Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Exceptional Leaders Enliven Vision through Infectiousness

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

In a recent post (March 26), I wrote about effective communication as one of the 12 behaviors of exceptional leaders  identified by Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart & co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Today’s topic is another of the 12: infectiousness.

Infectiousness isn’t a trait that usually is cited as a key leadership skill, but I suspect it’s because that trait is often described differently. It could fall under the oft-mentioned “charisma,” “charm” or “engaging personality,” or a number of other descriptors. Infectiousness also could be encompassed in other characteristics, particularly passion, which is another of the 12 behaviors on Bradberry’s list. But I like the fact that he calls out infectiousness to stand on its own because unless the leader’s passion is expressed in a way that employees “catch the bug,” it won’t have a lasting effect.

As Bradberry explains, “Great leaders know that having a clear vision isn’t enough. You have to make that vision come alive so that your followers can see it just as clearly as you do. Great leaders do that by telling stories and painting verbal pictures so that everyone can understand not just where they’re going, but what it will look and feel like when they get there. This inspires others to internalize the vision and make it their own.”

untitledStarbucks’ Howard Schultz is a great example of infectiousness. First, he looks for employees who share his customer-centered values,  including a desire to contribute to their community. Building on his belief that “people want to be part of something larger than themselves,” new employees, or “partners,” as Starbucks calls them, undergo 24 hours of classroom training. The company also pays for additional workshops and classes that partners choose to take.

New senior leaders are put through a four-month “immersion in the Starbucks culture” to ensure that everyone understands the coffee business from start to finish. And Schultz emphasizes the values that comprise the culture by sharing his “unbridled enthusiasm and love” for the company at regularly-held district meetings.

Quoting the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Leadership Requires Effective Communication

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Communication is the chief responsibility of a leader according to many management experts, and that makes complete sense. If a leader isn’t able to communicate his/her vision for the organization, anything else s/he does is wasted effort because people will be confused about the overall direction of the company and heading toward different goals.

Dr. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president of TalentSmart, agreed in his article, “12 Habits of Exceptional Leaders.”  While he ranks effective communication at the #2 spot, behind courage, he calls communication “the real work of leadership.”

His point about courage is that “people need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show courage themselves when their leaders do the same.”

In discussing the need for effective communication, Dr. Bradberry points ot that people need to be inspired. They also need to feel a connection with their leaders that is “real, emotional, and personal, regardless of any physical distance between them. Great communicators forge this connection through an understanding of people and an ability to speak directly to their needs.”

All those desired results of effective communication are exactly what stories do. They reach people’s hearts as well as their minds and create lasting connections between individuals. That’s why corporate storytelling is a crucial skill for highly effective leaders.

How would you rank your own leadership communication skills? Are your people inspired? Do they feel a real connection with you and a desire to follow you wherever you want to take the organization?

Culture of Communication Maximizes Employee Engagement

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

According to a recent Gallup poll, over 50 percent of the current workforce is not fully engaged with the company; they simply show up and do what they need to do to keep their jobs–a steady income, in other words–but they do no more than absolutely necessary. What’s worse, nearly 20 percent of employees are “actively disengaged,” which presumably means they “push the envelope” on how little is enough to get by.

Margie Warrell, a leadership coach and author, discusses this woeful situation in an article on Forbes.com. Pointing out the urgent need for effective leadership communication, Warrell says that a leader’s level of interaction with employees makes a huge difference in how the workforce feel about their organization. As she rightly asserts, it’s crucial for a leader to regularly walk through the workplace and talk with employees. Transparent communication that divulges failures as well as successes is at the heart of creating a truly connected workplace, a culture of interdependence and mutual trust. And reminding people that their contributions are valuable inspires lasting commitment.

When people feel connected, they support one another fully and provide top-notch customer service. As Warrell says, “Relationships are the currency of the workplace, and so the stronger a leader’s connections, the better placed they will be to engage their employees…. Only when leaders demonstrate the courage they wish to see in those around them will they be able to unleash the human potential within their teams and organization, tap ingenuity,  raise the bar on innovation and optimize the value their organization contributes to all of it’s stakeholders.”

Stories are the best way for a leader to make those essential connections: stories that envision the future and make it palpable; stories that remind people of successes, both past and current;  stories about “lessons learned,” including those that describe mistakes the leader has made–and that have shaped the leader.

Over the past 21+ years, during which I’ve led hundreds of Corporate Storytelling workshops and delivered tens of keynotes, I’ve seen thousands of people light up when they experience the power of story. It’s the way humans derive meaning about life, from daily routines to remarkable accomplishments. Stories are the way we learn about one another, discover shared values and appreciate how much we can accomplish together.

Leaders who leverage the power of story with clear, consistent communication are sure to beat the competition. Their workforce will be fully engaged and committed to doing whatever it takes to realize the vision.

What People Do During Conference Calls

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

The growing number of articles on the fast-disappearing art of listening has tapped into one of my pet peeves. I’m pretty certain most, if not all, of you have noticed that people increasingly are attempting to multi-task instead of focusing on what they’re purportedly doing. This includes so-called “communication” activities!

It isn’t just my imagination. According to a report in “Harvard Business Review” based on research by Intercall, 65% of the people on a conference call are doing other work; 63% are writing emails, and 55% are eating. A high percentage of others are going to the rest room, texting, checking social media and even doing their shopping (no kidding).

One of the most obvious signs that someone is hurriedly trying to “check things off the to-do list” is when the person answers an email containing several questions or concerns, but responds to only the first one. It’s clear that the person read only the first line, or the first paragraph, of the original email and feels a sense of having “handled” it by responding at all.

Another indicator of preoccupation is a conference call during which only one or two people of a number on the call say anything. Sometimes this may be because a high-level executive in an organization is on the call and others are too timid to express their opinions or observations. But in other cases, such as the strangest conference call I’ve ever experienced, several of the people on the line were joint decision-makers–and yet, only one of the five spoke at all during a 20-30 minute call. The rest of the conversation was between the primary client contact and me. It was very odd that the partners, for whom the call was arranged, said nothing. My primary contact explained later that “they’re busy executives who probably were doing other things” during the call. That begs the question, “What was the purpose, then?”

A sense of humor helps me to cope with puzzling situations such as that. So I was delighted to discover this well-written and artfully executed video. It’s an entertaining demonstration of what happens all too often when the leader of a project meeting or conference call attempts to get down to business. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did–but of course, not during a conference call!

Powerful Listening Wins Employee Engagement

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Listening Ear

When you hear the word “communication,” what do you think of first: speaking, or listening? My hunch is that most of us think of speaking. In our hyper-busy, 24/7 culture, in fact, the “art” of listening–truly listening in a focused, intentional way–has been lost. It may sound like an oxymoron, but there is power in the ability to listen.

In fact, listening is an absolutely essential skill for leaders to develop. According to a recent Gallup poll, 63% of the global workforce is not engaged, and that translates into a waste of half a trillion dollars! And listening is one of the most powerful ways to engage employees, writes Greg McKeown in a wonderful article in “Harvard Business Review”. Unfortunately, leaders, like most of us, tend to focus on the messages they need to convey and forget that they need to listen to their employees.

By listening carefully to the people in their organizations on a regular basis, leaders will learn invaluable information:

  • what’s on employees’ and customers’ minds
  • what employees most want from their leaders
  • what employees most need from their leaders

What can be done to close the communication gap between leaders and their employees? McKeown suggests adapting a listening process used by the Quakers called the “Clearness Committee.” He describes in some detail how the process works and acknowledges that few companies would have time to invest in it.

But McKeown says the business world can adapt the process this way: “When one of your team members comes to you with a particular challenge, you can ask her questions to define what the real dilemma is, instead of jumping in with premature, well-intended solutions that actually miss the mark”….and you can increase the ratio of listening to speaking by asking questions.

He suggests spending at least 50% of any conversation actively listening to the other person speak. “The bottom line is this: if you want to engage your employees at a whole new level, if you want to become a person of greater influence, and if you want to discover a new kind of power — listen.”

5 Easy Ways to Use Storytelling in Corporate Communications

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

After 21 years in the practice of Corporate Storytelling, I’m surprised to still get the question, “How can stories be used in business (or any other organization)?” I usually respond by pointing out that storytelling is a communication tool, then ask, “What do you commuicate about?”, or “What’s the main message you want people to get when you create a document or deliver a speech? What story can you incorporate to make your point come alive?”

Stories, after all, are the ideal way to create and sustain the culture of any type of group–business, nonprofit, government agency, family, friends, etc.  Stories touch hearts as well as minds, and the emotional connection they generate is one of the key reasons for the inherent power of a good story.

Here, then, are five ways you can begin using stories in your own communication efforts:

  1.  Convey corporate values: Leaders need to continually remind people of the organization’s core values. By telling stories about employees “caught doing something right,” they underscore core values, give recognition to deserving employees, and celebrate individuals’ successes.
  2. Build more effective teams: When a new team forms, have the members share stories of their experiences–in the organization, their careers or their personal lives. This builds connections and solidifies relationships, leading to better mutual support and, ultimately, improved customer service.
  3. Help people cope with change: As a company goes through major change, such as a merger, acquisition, or reorganization, morale and productivity usually take a nose-dive. People feel unprepared for the change, and that makes them uncomfortable and anxious, so they seek solace from one another instead of focusing on the job at hand. Managers who share their own “war stories” of successfully adapting to change will calm employees’ fears and increase workforce effectiveness and commitment.
  4. Increase sales: As natural storytellers, gifted salespeople often tell prospective customers about past customer successes to explain product or service benefits. Sales managers can help their people be more successful by sharing stories of exceptional customer service, rather than just raw sales figures, so salespeople can learn better “how it’s done”.
  5. Attract and retain employees: Organizations that accurately convey their values and culture attract and retain employees who not only fit in easily but also become loyal supporters who stay with the company.

How have you used stories in the past? Which of these five easy ways will you try next? Share your successes with us!

A Guide to Expectations of Millennials

Thursday, May 15th, 2014
Anna Liotta

Anna Liotta

According to an article by an expert on generational challenges in the workplace, Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1999) have such different expectations from their managers, that many managers are at a loss as to how to handle the younger generation. My colleague and friend Anna Liotta, author of Unlocking Generational CODES, says the Millennial generation is “the first generation to have no expectation of retiring from the company they are working for today. In fact, 91% of Millennials expect to stay at a job or position for fewer than three years.” What’s even more surprising to many managers is that a Millennial considers less than three years to be a long time!

With turnover costs equaling more than six months of a person’s salary, as estimated by The Society of Human Resources (SHRM), shorter-than-expected stays can be very costly for employers. Why are Millennials so eager to move on? Their motivations are based on a different set of expectations than previous generations have had. Chief among Millennials’ expectations are these:

* high pay (74%)
* flexible work hours (61%)
* a promotion within a year (56%)
* more vacation or personal time (50%)

Liotta’s research has found that Millennials “typically decide in their first 30 days if they will remain with a company for 6, 12, or 18 months. It’s up to their leaders to discover how to communicate effectively to keep them engaged in the work and committed to the organization. That, int urn, will enable the employer to realize a more satisfying return on its talent investment. Liotta offers guidance on how to do that through books and articles available on her website as well as through speaking engagements and trainings. Access those resources and learn how to contact her by visiting her website.

Managers Need Training to Meet Expanding Expectations

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

A survey reported in “The Wall Street Journal” yesterday discovered that, while companies are adding responsibilities to managers’ already heavy workloads, they aren’t providing training that helps those managers handle their expanding responsibilities. Standard approaches, such as relying on “loaned executive” programs to nonprofits, company-developed formal training, or support from HR, were rated as the least helpful forms of training.

The most helpful training, according to managers surveyed, were provided by external leadership programs, encouragement from family and friends and support from peer networks. Leadership training for people who are promoted is the main exception.

However, the author and conductor of the survey, Herminia Ibarra, quickly adds that fewer people are being promoted, so the overall benefits of such training are not as far-reaching as previously. One of her conclusions is that continual training should be the standard, especially for “promising” managers, who will have the opportunity to learn from their peers over a long period of time as they all develop their skills. Ibarra also recommends that organizations facilitate more cross-departmental collaboration so that individuals get to know co-workers in other areas and gain better understanding of the roles and operations across the company.

Another recent survey found that soft skills training is the greatest needed in the corporate world. Individuals who lack so-called “people skills,” including the core component of communication, are unable to collaborate and that inability results in diminishes productivity and overall organizational effectiveness. Corporate Storytelling training provides the tools not only for clearly informing, directing, and supporting others, but also teaches the importance of listening–an often overlooked necessity in today’s constantly “plugged-in” world.

How are your storytelling and listening skills?

21st Century Business Culture Requires Soft Skills

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

According to branding expert and best-selling author Dan Schawbel, 61% of managers value soft skills over hard skills. If you haven’t yet developed and honed your own soft skills, including the ability to tell your own unique story, this book promises to be a valuable guide, outlining what it takes to build a successful career in new business culture of the 21st Century.

Soft skills include effective interpersonal communication (listening as well as speaking or writing), the ability to prioritize work and handle conflicts, and basic traits such as having a positive attitude. As Schawbel explains in his latest book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, having these skills and being able to brand and promote yourself is more crucial today than ever due to the dynamics of the internet, social media, and a non-stop 24/7 business schedule.   

Schawbel’s book explains how to navigate this new environment as an employee. Based on his own research on the current workplace, he details outdated standards and details how to succeed despite economic uncertainty and the need to constantly adapt.

Among the topics Schawbel covers in this book are how to use your current job as a platform for landing a better one; today’s new rules for the workplace; the need for continuing education; and how to use social media appropriately. He explains the disconnect between Gen Y and their managers and posits that the awareness of your own unique strengths and the ability to differentiate yourself are crucial.

Stephen R. Covey, who rose to fame with his first best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says “Schawbel’s book is a game-changer for any employee who is looking to get ahead at work. It reveals the skills and strategies that will turn you into a future leader.”

Storytelling Is Essential Business Skill

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Data Never SleepsAccording to a report in USA Today, every day each of us is bombarded with anywhere from 3,000-5,000 messages. These include all the bits and pieces of information that you see or hear throughout the day: advertising jingles; comments on radio shows; broadcast news; news and professional publications; reports and memos on your desk; emails; telephone conversations; books you’re reading; signs on the office walls; billboards, etc. And that report was published in 2006! The deluge of information has continued to snowball since then.

Another startling report I saw a few years ago was this: one Sunday edition of The New York Times contains as much information as the average 19th Century citizen accessed over an entire lifetime! And another: a typical manager reads one million words every week–the equivalent to one-and-a-half full-length novels every day. And one more (if you’re brain isn’t already going numb): Worldwide, knowledge doubles every 72 hours!

Why is The Corporate Storyteller relating all these numbers? Primarily there are two reasons. First, it’s necessary to be aware of a problem before you can deal with it. Second, the ability to deal with this incredible deluge of information requires that you master the skill of storytelling. According to many thought leaders, storytelling is the #1 business skill necessary for success in today’s world. It’s the most effective way to be heard in the midst of constant “noise” in a global culture of 24/7 communication.

So how are your storytelling skills? Are you prepared to tell the right story at the right time to a particular audience? Are you certain that you can get your message across in a way that will be relevant and memorable?

Infographic courtesy of Domo.com