One of the biggest challenges we all face when put into business leadership roles is how to communicate most effectively. As a mentor to entrepreneurs over the years, I see many of you who don’t communicate enough, others who seem to do all the talking, and some that are hesitant to be direct and open. I find that having the right mindset is key to getting all these right.
You first have to accept the fact that communication is far more than relaying information. The mindset you need for real communication must be focused on building relationships, surfacing ideas, generating trust, and building commitment, whether it be with your team, customers, or suppliers.
I found that guidance along these lines was spelled out well in a recent book, “Entrepreneurial Leadership,” by Joel Peterson, based on his experience at JetBlue Chairman and a Stanford Professor. He nets out five specific mindsets that I assure you will help any of you as a leader communicate more openly and more successfully:
- Be convinced you have a valuable contribution to make. The first necessary mindset in communicating effectively is being convinced you have something important to say. So do your homework before you talk, to get up to speed on the current topic, identify new information that others don’t have, and quantify value to you and other relevant people. For example, every business team needs focus and direction to be productive. You as the leader have a responsibility to define goals, strategy, and operational metrics. One of the biggest problems I see in startups is everyone trying to do too many different things, straining resources and confusing customers.
- Always open to be influenced by new information. The best communicators remain open and anticipate productive feedback in the form of additional information. They realize that it’s an interactive process, and everyone wins when the process clarifies and improves the message. You have to remain open to change throughout the process. Most analysts agree that many major business failures, including Blockbuster, Kodak and Xerox, were not a result of leaders not knowing about new technology, but failing to communicate effectively and listen to other internal organizations for impact and timing.
- Never be deterred from showing a constant curiosity. True communication always invites feedback and input, rather than closing the door. Make your intentions and your perspective evident, but show a willingness to understand another’s experience or additional facts. This mindset will set the best tone and tenor for further interactions. Research shows that the best leaders spend more than 75 percent of their time satisfying their curiosity, which means communicating effectively with peers, outside experts, and their internal teams. To stay effective in this world of change requires constant learning.
- Set your goal to be the best idea will always win. You communicate best when you look beyond any self-interests you may have, to address the collective good. With this mindset, you will find that other people listen, engage, and give more of themselves. Skip the vague generalities and jargon that may confuse people or blur your intentions. What we are talking about here is not just communication, but creating a culture that fosters, rewards, and empowers itself through great ideas from everyone. That has to be driven by you, the leader, through consistent and empathetic messaging.
- Be determined to balance inquiry with advocacy. The idea behind this mindset is to lay out your thinking and reasoning, inviting others to do the same. Make the process iterative and cumulative, but don’t forget to call the question after a reasonable time. We’ve all been frustrated with people who talk forever and never make a decision. Examples of inquiry include asking questions to seeking the wisdom of the room, while advocacy means stating your view or urging a course of action. There is a place for both, and your challenge is to find that balance that makes people trust you and follow you.
Overall, I have learned that effective leadership starts with adopting the right mindset for every communication. After that, choose your words well, both oral and written, and recognize that your body language transmits a key part of every message. Don’t hesitate to spend the time you need optimizing your communication to get it right. Your business and your success depend on it.