The Great Leadership Advice was All About Communication
Interestingly, the most important advice I ever received from a mentor about leading and succeeding was all about strengthening my communication skills. “Art, you’ll go as far as you can communicate. Focus on your communication skills, and success will follow,” was the advice Maury gave to when I was fresh into the workforce. I’m not sure I understood the gravity of his guidance at the time, yet the idea behind the words never left me.
As I progressed through the ranks and took on a string of more significant challenges and ultimately launched and built my leadership development and coaching practice, Maury’s advice never stopped paying dividends. Now, I strive to pay those words forward to anyone who cares to unlock some of the real keys to career success.
All the Value Creation Happens in Challenging Conversations
Something I had to learn the hard way is that everything important in our careers is an outcome of one or more challenging conversations. It turns out, these awkward moments are where problems are solved, differences bridged, and seemingly opposed viewpoints melded into innovative approaches.
From guiding teams and firms through change to navigating strategic choices to dealing with problem employees, presenting ideas for investment, or surviving the machine-gun-like questioning of a tough board member, succeeding in those difficult moments is essential for success.
But first, you have to learn to be at your best in the moments that matter.
Maury provided the prompt for me to focus on strengthening my communication skills. However, I had to learn how to navigate the challenging conversations by developing the discipline to resist my natural instinct to argue when challenged.
It wasn’t always easy.
I grew up in a family that argues for sport, and my tendency when verbally challenged is to push back. In my coaching work, many of my clients struggle with these moments as well, often resorting more to a flight than fight approach. Neither approach is right. Instead, it’s essential to train your inner voice to remind you, “This is part of the process, and now I must find a way forward to build a better outcome.”
We Need to Be Fierce Listeners
Last week, I delivered a webinar with my Crushing It with Challenging Conversations e-course program co-creator, Laura Bantz, where almost 700 people signed up to gain guidance on what we describe as “fierce listening.” (In case you are interested, here’s the link to the replay.)
It warmed the communication coach part of my heart to see and hear from so many aspiring fierce listeners. Sadly, the polling indicated that too many are working in environments where listening is optional. Armed with a host of new approaches, we encouraged them to begin building fierce listening practices into their daily routines and team environments. We might not fix the boss, but we can absolutely improve our behaviors and positively affect the environment in the process.
And yes, listening is the best way you will ever learn to show respect, promote trust, and catalyze performance. There’s something magical about focusing intently on the other party and striving to do everything possible to comprehend them.
We All Have the Same Words—It’s How You Choose to Use Yours that Matters
Words are wonderful things, and words blended with the right tone, empathy, body language, and eye contact are the ingredients of problem-solving, inspiration, engagement, and of course, leadership and personal success.
The opposite holds, as well. The wrong words or an out-of-tune delivery get in the way of progress, invite argument, and foment disagreement.
It pays to tune and practice your communications instrument.
Two Secrets from the World of Executive Coaches
There’s a good deal that goes on in the work of developing leaders. However, two topics make up the bulk of every single coaching conversation:
- How to think differently about challenges as part of the solution development process
- How to communicate to gain support or affect change
Individuals who invest in developing both their critical thinking skills and their communication skills are the ones who ultimately rise to guide teams, functions, and organizations.
Interestingly, I meet many great thinkers whose most significant complaint is they’re misunderstood or under-appreciated. That changes for the better if they invest effort in developing as communicators.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
While some individuals are naturally gifted as orators or are cool communicators under pressure, the great news is that developing your communication skills and effectiveness is much more a matter of practice and deliberate effort than a birthright. Find a great teacher and put the lessons to work. Remember, just as Maury said, “You’ll go as for as you can communicate.”