4 Ways Great Leaders Communicate

The takeaways in this post will allow you to go on vacation and actually take time away from your business, physically and emotionally. Doesn’t that sound nice?

If you really want freedom and a business that doesn’t rely on you personally, you need to build a culture of ownership. And this culture is going to be defined by the quality of the relationships amongst your team. Presented below are some big takeaways from various books that will set you on the right path.

At the risk of stating the obvious, these takeaways are useful for any important relationship. Yes, they’ll immediately benefit your business. But “how you do anything is how you do everything.” These takeaways can also be used to great effect in your personal life.

Thank for the Feedback: Feedback is a loaded topic. Most people are terrible at giving feedback. Leaders should learn how to do so with grace, clarity, humanity, and humility. However, we can’t expect most people to give feedback well.

This book presents a process for learning how to get better at receiving feedback. The subtitle is “the art and science of receiving feedback well, even if it’s off-base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you’re not in the mood.” Which… is usually the case.

1 TAKEAWAY: Know your personal feedback “style” when considering how to use feedback.

Do you tend to react emotionally to feedback? If so, you may be an “over-reacter.” In this case, you should be careful of how you respond in the moment. Receive the feedback with a sincere “thank you” and let yourself take some time to consider what was said after the emotional hit has faded.

Does feedback not really bother you? If so, you may under-react to feedback. Be on the lookout for consistent pieces of feedback that you discount as “not that big of a deal.” It’s possible you’re not able to see a pattern of behavior that’s negatively affecting your relationships. If you hear a piece of feedback more than once, don’t be too quick to dismiss it.

If one person calls you a dick, maybe they’re having a bad day. If three different people tell you you’re a dick, you may be a dick. (I know, I know, acting like a dick, it’s not a permanent condition. #growthmindset)

7 Habits of Highly Effective People: This was my third go-round with this book. It’s one of the all-time staples of personal development. If you’ve never read it, I recommend prioritizing it. The first time I read it I wasn’t really blown away, but I’ve loved it more with each passing read. I particularly enjoy the audio-version. Something about Stephen Covey’s voice is comforting and old-timey as fuck. It reminds me of my grandpa (whom I miss terribly even after 25 years).

1 TAKEAWAY: “Seek first to understand.”

One of the seven habits is “seek first to understand.” This is incredibly powerful (and also relates to receiving feedback). It’s human nature to want to be understood. And there’s a time and place for that. But when you’re having a challenge in a relationship or you’re confronted with some upsetting news, the place to start is usually with seeking first to understand the other person’s point of view.

It will be human nature to want to explain where you’re coming from, or defend your position. This will be the case even more so if you’re being challenged. But this isn’t your most effective approach. Starting a conversation with questions and listening is always going to be the first step in any contentious chat. Often you will learn you were missing out on part of their thought process. Additionally, other people are always more likely to entertain your point of view when you demonstrate you are open to theirs.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Ben Horowitz’s book has quickly become a modern day management classic. Horowitz famously thinks business books suck. They focus on how to avoid mistakes. But you WILL fuck up. You will make massive errors. Horowitz’s book is about what to do next.

(Paraphrasing: “Every business book says “hire stars.” Wow. What an amazing piece of advice. And here I’ve been looking to hire idiots this whole time.”)

1 TAKEAWAY: Regularly meet with your team in one on one settings.

And in these meetings, you should have questions prepared to find out how things are really going in your organization. Some of your team will come right out and say what’s going on. Other people require you asking the exact right question. And almost all of them will have things they’re reluctant to say for any number of reasons.

Examples of great questions include:

  • “What’s one change you think would improve our gym culture?”
  • “What’s the single worst part of your job?”
  • “Tell me about your best day ever at work. Why was it so great?”

Regular one on ones are also important to invest in your relationship with your team. Trust takes time and trust is the currency of successful human relationships (read The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey). Sometimes there may not be much going on in the work environment that requires discussion. That’s fine. Because you’re both humans with a life outside of work. Leaders should invest in knowing the whole person.

At the end of the day, the best leaders aren’t focused solely on the business outcomes. That matters of course, and needs to be discussed if someone’s not succeeding at their job. But it’s important to think of serving the human being first. You may be paying them money, but all the truly good stuff they give to your business is what they choose to freely contribute to your shared mission. It’s appropriate to have a professional relationship with your team, but it needs to be more than a transactional relationship.

The Anatomy of Peace: I had already read and LOVED Leadership and Self Deception, another book by the Arbinger Institute, and I recently gave this “prequel” a read. I liked this book so much it’s our current reading assignment in our internal MFF book club. Keeping with our theme, conflict resolution starts with yourself.

The Anatomy of Peace is a “business fable.” In other words, the authors use the conceit of a story to make their points. I’m invariably slightly off-put whenever I start books like this. But then I always learn and remember the information better. So what the hell do I know.

1 TAKEAWAY: For a successful conversation around a conflict, start by finding peace towards the other party.

This is the main takeaway from… well, every book ever written on interpersonal conflict.

It’s not that the other person isn’t contributing to the problem somehow. Usually they are. They may be flat out wrong. They may even have started the conflict by making you wrong. But peace starts with us motherfuckers. We always have the responsibility to master ourselves first and see the other person as complete human being.

In many conflicts, we deny the other party their humanity. They become an obstacle to our happiness. They stand in the way of our preferred reality. And this is a non-starter. It prevents meaningful resolution.

This takeaway is a bit harder to pin down and may feel a bit more touchy-feely than the first three. But I don’t think there’s anything touchy-feely about taking responsibility for your part in any interpersonal conflict. In fact it’s hard as hell. But if you want to constructively address interpersonal conflict, the first step is always to take responsibility for your own reaction. This means “being with” the other person as a human being, and not going in guns blazing.

NOW GO DO SHIT

These four takeaways can contribute to creating the relationships required for a highly functioning team. This is the bedrock of a successful business that can thrive when the owner isn’t around.

Take a moment and think through how and where you can apply these in the next week.

  • Can you articulate your “feedback style” and share it with your coworkers?
  • Is there a conversation you’ve been avoiding that you can initiate with genuine curiosity?
  • Can you set up some quarterly meetings with your team to see how they’re doing and how you can improve their life?
  • Can you think of someone you’re “making wrong” and reframe it to take responsibility for your own contribution?

Here’s a bonus takeaway from The Hard Thing About Hard Things: There are no silver bullets, there are only lead bullets. Lots and lots of lead bullets. Creating a remarkable service culture isn’t about one genius idea or strategy. It’s about savagely executing lots of little ideas and tweaks with ruthless discipline over time.

This is hard work. But the payoff is not just a better and more profitable business. These strategies will lead to more meaningful and fulfilling relationships and a better life.

2 thoughts on “4 Ways Great Leaders Communicate

  1. GOLD. Absolute gold. Thank you for putting this together. SO many powerful insights but this one rocked me. “In many conflicts, we deny the other party their humanity. They become an obstacle to our happiness. They stand in the way of our preferred reality. And this is a non-starter. It prevents meaningful resolution.”

    I do not read a lot of blogs right now as I tend to focus more on books but you have made this blog my happy place. I get fantastic information I cannot get anywhere else. Formatted beautifully, and I get to add to my book list at the same time!

    Thank you again for sharing your awesome!

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