“Lauren, I have just been promoted to Division Chief, and I want to do the best job I can for the division. What advice can you share with me about how I should be communicating in my new position?”
First off, congratulations! That’s very exciting, and the very fact that you are seeking insights on how to be an effective leader indicates to me you will be. I encourage you to start studying the leadership characteristics of those leaders you admire and reading consistently on leadership principles.
With that in mind, to answer your question, I dug up a list The Colonel gave me when I attained my first management position – written on a 3 x 5 card. “The Do’s and Don’ts of Communicating With Your Team.” He told me that he had written the list originally while listening to a speech by Colin Powell, although I can’t verify that and therefore can only attribute it to my dad and not General Powell. Wherever it came from at first, I believe it to be a good start for you.
DO treat everyone with respect whether or not you like what they think, say or do.
Regardless of whether you respect a member of your team (and there may be many reasons to not respect someone – their words, their behaviors, differing ethics, etc.), treat them with respect. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, even when they aren’t behaving in a dignified or respectful manner. It is the leader’s responsibility to set the standard for acceptable behavior and lead by example from Higher Ground.
DO be consistent with your communication.
Consistency not only in message but also in manner and tone is vital. Communicate with every member of your team the same way. There will inevitably be some members of your team you like more than others, or who out-perform others. None-the-less, this should not affect the way you communicate with them or, more importantly, the other members of your team. You need to communicate with each member of your team in a consistent manner.
DO think before you speak.
As the leader, what you say will carry more weight than it did before, and it will carry more weight than what others on the team say. Therefore, you need to think through what you say and make sure it is always consistent with the mission and message of your team and the organization. Once in a leadership position, you release the luxury of “speaking off the cuff.”
DO communicate expectations in a clear and concise manner.
It is never productive to expect our team to read our minds. “They should know what I expect of them,” is never an effective way of getting results. Clearly communicate to your team, as well as to each individual, what you expect of them – what the objective is, what the priorities are in achieving the objective and what the timeframe for completion is.
DO take responsibility for errors and apologize when necessary.
Because we know that no one is perfect, it goes without saying that you are going to make mistakes as you learn and grow. When that happens, admit it. Nothing will gain you more respect from your team than them seeing you own up to your mistakes and setting about making them right. Even when that means making a public apology. Your team will not expect you to be perfect. They WILL expect you to be honest, honorable and accountable.
DON’T allow emotion to drive what comes out of your mouth.
If you are not in emotional control, you are ineffective – in every aspect of your life and work, but especially as a leader and a communicator. Often what is said through emotion is inappropriate, and it, therefore, has to be explained or apologized for later. Leadership requires communicating rationally and not in the heat of the moment.
DON’T resort to name calling or use demeaning nicknames to refer to others.
Using nicknames – especially demeaning ones – undercuts all efforts to treat others with respect. Even if you believe the names to be “all in jest” they undermine the credibility of the person you are “naming” and therefore, gives unspoken permission for others on the team to do the same. Furthermore, it sets the nickname in the team consciousness where it will come up automatically with any reference to that person.
DON’T take credit for subordinates’ accomplishments.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to set your team up for success and shine a light on their efforts. Their accomplishments are their own and should be highlighted as such. Legendary Alabama football coach, Bear Bryant said, “If the Tide wins big, the team did a great job. If we squeak by with a win, I’ve got some work to do. If we lose, it’s all on me.” The Colonel always said, “An achiever wants to see themselves rise to the top. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not leadership. A LEADER wants to see those AROUND him rise.”
DON’T use profanity or offensive language.
There is no place for profanity or offensive language in leadership. I understand that the expectations of what is considered profanity have become much more flexible in the 21st Century. Still I stand by this item on The Colonel’s list. For every swear word one might use, there are a dozen other words that could be substituted to convey the same meaning and not be considered profane.
DON’T rely on threats to drive performance.
The Colonel often said, “You may win a battle with threats, but you won’t win the war.” Any time you issue a threat, you MUST be willing to carry it through, or you lose all credibility. Therefore, they should be used exceedingly sparingly if at all. Threatening someone to improve their performance is rarely effective in the long run. It usually only increases performance long enough for that team member to find a new job.
This should give you a good foundation for communicating with your new team. I know you’ll do great!