My year-long At Your Best series on leadership competencies you need to master continues this month with one that is inspired by news from one of the world’s best-known and historically well-respected companies. It turns out that a weak communications environment can sink even the best of the best. Read on for the details and what you can do to avoid a similar fate.
How Clear and Open Communications Can Save Your Company
You may have seen the news that GE’s share price has dropped from $30 to $15 a share in the past few months and that the company’s new CEO is considering breaking it up. How did this happen to a 125-year-old company that is one of the icons for American manufacturing and leadership know-how?
New reporting in The Wall Street Journal offers some insights into what went wrong at GE. Among other factors, former GE CEO Jeff Immelt and his executives engaged in what insiders called “Success Theater.” The story explains that Immelt didn’t like hearing bad news or delivering it either. The result was some big, nasty surprises that ended up biting GE’s execs, board and investors in the butt.
It’s a great example of why the leadership competency of communicating clearly and openly is so important. Doing so can literally save your company or organization. Here’s a checklist of behaviors that you and your leaders need to model if you want to save your company by creating a culture where everyone communicates clearly and openly.
Make it safe: Step number one is to make it safe for your people to share bad news. That means you need to listen and ask open-ended questions that uncover the root of the problem without making it about particular people. (Most problems are systems problems at the root, not people problems.) It also means that you quietly take deep breaths and avoid eye-rolling, clinched jaws and abusive language when you hear something you don’t like.
Make it welcome: Successfully exhibiting the behaviors above show that you can handle the truth and that, far from avoiding bad news, you welcome it. Sometimes I find myself having to deliver a truckload of bad news to a client when I’m sharing colleague feedback with them. In those moments, I often ask, “Would you rather know or not know?” The smart ones say they’d rather know because it’s only by knowing about a problem that you can begin to solve it. By focusing on solutions rather than blame, you show that you welcome the truth whether it’s good news, bad news or somewhere in between.
Make it a learning opportunity: There’s a classic story about a young executive in the early days of IBM who made a million-dollar mistake (when a million dollars was a serious amount of money). He was called into the office of founder and CEO Thomas J. Watson expecting to be fired and told Watson he was ready to accept that fate. When Watson heard this, he replied, “Fire you? Why would I fire you when I just spent a million dollars training you? Get back out there and fix it.” For more on helping your team learn from experience, good or bad, see this article I wrote for Fast Company on how to conduct an after-action review.
Make it actionable: Too often, there’s a lot of communication that doesn’t lead to anything actionable. As I’ve written about extensively in The Next Level, you can solve that by organizing your communications around three short questions:
In other words, what’s the topic; why should that person or group care about it and what do you want them to do next? Just a little bit of forethought around those questions can make a big difference in how effective you are as a communicator.
Try modeling these four behaviors and see what difference it makes in promoting clear and open communications in your organization.
I’m working away on my new podcast, Lead at Your Best, Live at Your Best, and have recorded some great interviews with some fascinating leaders. I’ve also been recording my answers and advice to questions and challenges that people like you have shared. Have a topic you want me to address on the podcast? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to launch sometime in March. Stay tuned!
Where I'll Be in March
Along with wrapping up the manuscript for the 3rd edition of The Next Level and a lot of client contact from the Santa Monica mothership, here’s where I’ll be for business in March.
March 2: Thousand Oaks, CA to lead an Executive Presence Coaching Session for the US commercial leadership team of a Global 500 client.
March 6: Laguna Beach, CA to deliver a keynote address on Leading and Living at Your Best to a national healthcare company.
March 7: Cyberspace to kick off a new Next Level Leadership® Group Coaching program for high potential leaders of a national financial services company.
March 28: Vienna, VA to deliver a day of Next Level Leadership® Group Coaching for high potential leaders of a national non-profit agency.
Stuff We Love
Tamborine – Comedian Chris Rock is back with a new one-hour stand-up special on Netflix. If you’re offended by seriously R-rated content then stay away. If you enjoy or can hang with that, watch it not just for the laughs but for the thought-provoking, almost painful to watch level of honesty Rock exhibits about marriage, addiction, adultery, parenting, race relations, criminal justice and finding your way in life. This one is sticking with me.
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