Every business, no matter how global or local, relies on communication to get things done. Yet only a small percentage of companies actually invest in teaching their employees how to communicate. Leaders are particularly vulnerable to being criticised for misunderstanding communication subtleties and for inadequate presentation of their ideas. Stephan Melchior, Managing Partner, Wilson Learning Middle East, shares some pointers on why good communication skills are important for leaders.
When leaders learn the dynamics of communication, and build the skill of versatility to get their messages across to a wide range of personalities, the effectiveness and productivity of everybody in the team rises.
Recent research confirms that versatility is one of the most important skills for creating a high performance organisation. It influences all the interactions that occur within organisations and between an organisation and its customers
Leaders with high versatility have employees who exhibit greater work satisfaction and higher performance. Versatility improves global relationships. A study of over 150,000 people from 20 different countries showed that organisations with higher levels of versatility had more effective relationships with global partners. In sales organisations, high levels of versatility create higher revenues, greater market share, and better client relationships.
What is versatility?
In any business relationship there are two primary sources of tension; task tension and relationship tension. Task tension is useful; it motivates work. It is the need to solve a problem or reach a decision. Relationship tension is not useful as it is the result of lack of information or miscommunication and causes discomfort in a relationship, leading to business inefficiencies.
When time and energy are directed toward relationship tension, less energy is available to address the task tension. That is, the more effort people have to put into the relationship because of different communication styles, preferences, or expectations, the less effort goes toward accomplishing the business objective.
How to be more versatile
A person’s style tends to be very stable over time. In contrast, versatility is a skill that you can learn and improve. Versatility is the ability to temporarily adapt one’s behaviours in order to reduce relationship tension to make interactions with others more productive. In a recent study Wilson Learning interviewed leaders and their employees about effective leadership. The results show that leaders need to pay attention to a number of factors to increase their versatility.
So what defines a good leader?
You may think you know what makes a good leader, and you are looking from the perspective of your own style. Different styles focus on different characteristics to define a good leader. While all styles agree that good leaders give clear objectives and the autonomy to carry them out, there are important differences.
- Drivers value a leader with a direct approach; be prepared with desired outcomes and timelines.
- Expressive want a leader who is open and trusting, and shows empathy for others’ feelings; be prepared with a big picture vision of what you want accomplished.
- Amiable want a leader who shows confidence in them; be prepared with how you will support him or her.
- Analytical value a leader who is knowledgeable about the business and shares information freely; be prepared with specific goals and resources for getting the job done.
To be an effective leader, you need to be aware of the styles of your employees and how they perceive effective leadership. For example, an analytical leader, who does not express empathy and openly share feelings, may not be seen as a good leader by everyone.
What are leaders’ greatest weaknesses?
While all employees expressed that micro-managing is a common weakness, each style described specific characteristics that they also consider weaknesses in a leader.
- Drivers dislike leaders who give too much or too little direction. Too little makes the task vague; too much and the employee loses the ability to use his or her personal discretion.
- Expressives do not like leaders who are closed-minded, who see only one way to approach an issue and are closed to discussing other options.
- For Amiables, not expressing personal concern and interest in employees is one of the most common weaknesses in a leader.
- Analyticals dislike leaders who provide too much or too little information. Analyticals don’t what to be told irrelevant things, but also dislike information gaps.
An effective leader needs to match the amount of information, direction, and expression of concern to the style of individual employees. Or, you run the risk of being seen as a weak leader.
How do leaders support employees?
All employees need support from their leaders and all agreed that receiving advice and removing organisational barriers is critical. But the specific support employees need and expect varies by their style.
- Give advice to Drivers, but do not do the task for them directly. Drivers need the freedom to solve problems themselves and they resent direct intervention.
- Expressives need a sounding board; someone who is open to discussion and is non-judgmental. They want a leader who supports and backs up their ideas.
- Amiables want a leader who acts as a guide; who points them down the right path, expresses confidence in their choices, and suggests small course corrections along the way.
- Analyticals value clear and full acceptance of their decisions and direct feedback when they go off track.
When are employees ready for more responsibility?
One of the greatest mistakes leaders make is not recognising when employees are ready to step up to new challenges and greater responsibility. Leaders often make assumptions about when employees are ready, based on their own style.
- Driver and Analytical leaders tend to think employees are ready for more responsibility when employees repeatedly exceed expectations on current tasks. They often give high performers more responsibility without checking to see if the employee agrees that he or she is ready.
- Expressive and Amiable leaders rely on employees to tell them that they are ready for additional responsibilities. Thus, employees who perform well and ask for more responsibility are more likely to get promotions and advancement than those who just perform well.
- Leaders need to involve employees in this decision. Analytical employees may repeatedly exceed expectations and expect a promotion, but will not receive it because their Expressive leader is waiting for them to ask for more responsibility. As a result, that leader may lose a high performer.
Effective communication is critical, both for the success of the organisation and the success and satisfaction of employees. The most common reason people give for leaving a job is, poor communication with their manager. The most common reason customers leave suppliers is, poor communication with the sales force. And the most common reason global negotiations fail is the lack of sensitivity to global diversity—communication.
While versatility is a skill that can be learned, it is also a reflection of a leader’s values and principles. Low-versatile leaders take the perspective that others must adapt to them, that it is ‘my way or no way.’ They surround themselves with people who think the same, act the same, and communicate in the same way.
In contrast, highly-versatile leaders embrace diversity in all its forms – they surround themselves with people who are different; who bring different perspectives, different ideas, and different ways of expressing themselves. Versatile leaders use this diversity to grow their organisations and themselves. Versatility is critical to effective leadership performance; and leaders would do well to mentor it in their organisations.
Stephan Melchior has been working in the learning and development field for more than 15 years; designing and delivering training programmes in more than 20 countries. He is well known for the graphic facilitation approach he uses in his courses. Today, Stephan is Managing Partner at the Middle East office of Wilson Learning Worldwide, based in Dubai Knowledge Village. As a global organisation, Wilson Learning is the founder of the Performance and Fulfillment concept, and was rated among the Top 20 Leadership and Sales Training companies in 2010 and 2011 (www.trainingindustry.com). Wilson Learning Middle East was also recently ranked among the TOP100 SMEs in Dubai.
Wilson Learning Middle East can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at +971 50 7553800.