Opening the Communication Floodgates

Regardless of whatever leadership theory (or theories) you subscribe to, no one questions that effective leaders have good two-way communications skills.  They have to have the ability to both get their ideas across and be able to create an environment where others can share theirs.

There are probably as many approaches to communication as there are leaders.  However, I found the stories in this interview interesting.  The combination of communicating with both transparency and candor can be powerful.  However, being this open takes away what some managers think is their key leverage: Information.  Some think, “If everyone has the same information that I have, what value do I bring to the table?”  These leaders do not understand that their role is to coordinate their group so that they achieve results.

Of course, the culture that allows for open communications is set at the top.  We cannot expect middle-level managers to establish transparency and candor in their areas of responsibility if the situation does not exist above them.

While leaders can develop some communication skills (e.g., becoming a better public speaker), those skills referred to in the interview (trusting others and openness to being constructively questioned) may be more of a selection issue.  This is why it is important to assess potential leaders on their communication skills with direct reports (are they open to upward messages?), peers (do they control or share information?), and managers (are the willing to speak with candor?).  Assessment centers are particularly effective in identifying these skills.  Evaluation communication should also be part of any development measures (360, engagement surveys, etc.) so that you can know how well the leader is communicating with others.

Communication skills have always, and will always, be critical to leadership effectiveness.  While the mode of doing so will continue to evolve (from writing to talking to e-mailing to texting to tweeting to whatever is next) the ability to do it transparently and with candor will reap great rewards.

Dr. Warren Bobrow received his Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from the University of Tennessee.  He specializes in manager and executive assessments and employee selection. You can read his blog for occasional comments on leadership and other HR topics at www.allaboutperformance.biz/blog.  He can be reached at warren@allaboutperformance.biz.

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