How to Leverage Clarity to Dramatically Improve Your Communication

Wooden toy Blocks with the text: clarity

Communication is essential in every aspect of life that deals with relationships. However, when it comes to leadership, a failure to communicate consistently is the beginning of the end. However, just because it’s critical doesn’t mean most leaders are good at it.  

In research from the SkillsLoft assessments, clarity is the most common leadership skill plaguing high-performing and low-performing leaders. When leaders struggle to communicate with clarity, it creates confusion.

Leaders who struggle to communicate with clarity create confusion.

What is Clarity and Why Do Leaders Struggle?

For clarity (see what I did there), let’s get on the same page about what it means in the context of leadership. Clarity is the ability to be clear, concise, and impactful when communicating verbally or in writing. Leaders tend to struggle with clarity for one of three reasons:

  1. False Assumptions – Leaders live so much in their heads that they assume people know, and often they don’t.  
  2. Premature Thoughts – In our fast-paced business environment, it’s almost encouraged to say or write something before it is well thought out or complete.  
  3. Incomplete Information – There is a growing sense to communicate regardless of whether managers have all the information or not.  

Of the three, false assumptions are the most important to unpack and solve. “Clarity is not only kind, it’s essential. Clarity brings oxygen into the room, so it isn’t filled with worry, doubt, blame, and fear,” said Jason Barger, author of the new book Breathing Oxygen, on the latest episode of The John Eades Podcast. His words are wise because, in the absence of clear communication, team members will fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories.

In the absence of clear communication, team members fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories. 

Too often, leaders make assumptions that they have communicated with clarity. In one of my favorite books of all time, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, he wrote, “Assumptions set us up for suffering.”

Assumptions in Communication Set Everyone Up for Suffering

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Since each leader might be transparent in their communication one day and struggle with it the next, small changes often lead to big gains. For these small changes to take effect, they must be made prior to communicating instead of after. 

Small changes in communication can lead to big gains in comprehension and execution.

A straightforward strategy I coach leaders to leverage is to ask themselves one of three questions before communicating. These questions take less than one minute and

  • Is what I am about to say or write helpful? 
  • What action do I desire others to take?
  • Is this making the waters clearer or murkier?

While these three questions are simple, it doesn’t mean they are easy to answer. However, if you get in the habit of asking yourself one of these three questions before hitting send on an email or text, I promise you will improve your clarity. 

Here is the tricky part, this is much easier to do with written communication. Verbal communication is much more difficult. Often you are speaking off the cuff or after an emotional response, thus making it exponentially more difficult. 

A tiny strategy you can use is to ask the person or people you are communicating with a simple question when you are finished speaking:

  • “What was your main takeaway from what I said?”  

While this technique might make you feel a little bit like an elementary school teacher, it dramatically reduces the likelihood of assumptions taking place. 

Closing

Being more clear in your communication won’t be easy. The challenge to you this week is to get in the habit of asking yourself one simple question before communicating. I promise others will thank you. 

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The Communication Technique That Will Make You a Better Leader

Why is it that a professional will be fully engaged in a youtube video for 20 minutes but mentally check out of their boss’s team meeting in the first 5 minutes? Lazy or unwilling clearly wouldn’t be the right words. It often comes down to the quality of the communication they receive.  

There are many skills leaders must develop and demonstrate to be effective over time. Research by LearnLoft indicates relationship building, coaching, accountability, and communication are in the top four. However, communicating is the one that ultimately causes success or failure.  

Communication is the leadership skill that ultimately causes success or failure.

Take Robert, a sales manager in the aftermarket car industry, as an example. When the performance and motivation of Ginger, one of his star salespeople, saw a dramatic dip, he did what most managers do. He attempted to motivate her with money. He provided an increased commission structure and gave her a pep talk.

After a few months of continued lackluster results, Robert started to believe that Ginger’s best days were behind her. In a coaching session, we unpacked his previous attempts to assist Ginger and covered some alternative approaches that revolved around improving communication. I told Robert two lessons from the Effective Leadership Communication workshop. First, “you can’t motivate others, but you can inspire them.” Second, “the effectiveness of your communication determines the ceiling of your leadership.”

The effectiveness of your communication determines the ceiling of your leadership.

These two lessons spurred a conversation that led to a communication technique that immediately moved the needle with Ginger. It’s what I call, “Remind them of the reason.”

Remind Them of the Reason

Everybody, whether they admit it or not, wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves and do meaningful work during their lives. For example, in the case of Ginger, she admitted to Robert that she wasn’t motivated by the increase in commission and that ultimately she had forgotten the reason for her work beyond just making money for herself. 

Robert took this opportunity to inspire Ginger by “reminding her of the reason.” Here is what Robert said to Ginger in a one-on-one:

“The aftermarket car industry is ripe with deceit causing average Americans to be taken advantage of. It’s our job to keep the trustworthy mechanics and independent shop owners in a place where they can thrive. So every American has a trustworthy auto shop with the best service and prices.” He continued, “So the next time you want to give up when a shop owner tells you they don’t have time, remember; we are on a mission to help auto shop owners save $10M this year alone. We do this by providing a world-class eCommerce marketplace to empower independent shop owners to buy quality products at wholesale pricing.”  

Not only did Ginger’s performance improve after their talk, but she wrote a note on her whiteboard, “Remind Yourself of the Reason Daily.” The story of Robert and Ginger reminds us of an essential leadership lesson: 

Part of your responsibility as a leader is to constantly remind your team of the deeper reason behind their work.

If you lead a team, do not go another minute without being clear on why your team does what it does and its purpose for existence. By reminding people of the reason for their work, you’ll immediately raise the ceiling of what’s possible. When things get complicated (and they will), this deeper reason will give your team a reason to continue, even through the most trying times. 

Effective Communication Starts by Listening and Observing

What’s the best way to inspire and communicate with others? Most people would assume it’s about speaking, which wouldn’t be wrong. However, effective communication isn’t just about speaking, it’s also about listening and observing. 

Effective communication isn't just about speaking but also about listening and observing.

Knowing when and how often to remind your team of the reason is impossible without listening to your people. There has never been a more critical time to replace your judgemental mind with your eyes and ears. One of the best ways to do this is to distinguish between hearing and listening.  You could write a whole book about the topic, but a simple way to think about the difference:

Hearing is with your ears, listening is with your mind.

Be intentional and create interactions that allow you to be present and truly listen to your people. You will be amazed at what you learn, which will allow you to connect with them and inspire them better.

Closing

Here’s the hard truth about being an effective communicator and inspiring others. You won’t naturally connect with everyone, and everyone won’t buy into the deeper reason for your work. While it would be great you could, you can’t choose for them. Your responsibility is to communicate effectively and inspire them to action daily. 

Effective Leadership Communication Workshop Start Communicating more confidently and effectively as a leader. Sign up for the next Effective Leadership Communication Workshop Friday, February 25th at 12 PM EST.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why Inspiring Others is an Essential Leadership Skill

Inspired to work together.

Stopping something good is better than never starting it at all.  

Leaders do all kinds of things for others to consider them a leader. To name a few, creating strong trust-based relationships, casting a compelling vision, and constantly coaching for development. While each of these are essential, there is one attribute that, without question, causes someone to consider you a leader, and that’s how well and how often you inspire. 

Former LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner took the idea of inspiring people to a new level when he defined leadership this way, “Leadership is the ability to inspire others to achieve a shared objective.”

Not only is Weiner right, but research and other great leaders back him up. Richard Branson identifies the ability to inspire as the #1 leadership skill. According to an IBM study of over 1,700 CEO in 64 countries, the ability to inspire was one of the top three leadership traits. When leaders inspire they get an engaged team that gives maximum effort and produces maximum results.

When leaders inspire they get an engaged team that gives maximum effort and achieves maximum results.

However, knowing it’s essential to inspire as a leader and doing it are completely different things. I am sure of this leadership lesson in all my years of studying, teaching, and coaching leadership. 

Your potential to inspire others depends on how inspired you are.  

When you look at the word inspire, it’s best defined as filling (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. It comes from Latin meaning, “to breathe life into.”

What Happens When Leaders Stop Inspiring

It’s not hard to get behind the idea that inspiring others is an essential leadership skill. However, sustaining it and doing it consistently through verbal and body language communication is difficult.  

When one stops inspiring others, it’s like how you or I get out of shape. We don’t make a conscious decision to stop working out or eating healthy. It happens subconsciously because we are busy doing other things, or we get complacent in our position. Suddenly, it’s been a month since we have been to the gym, and pizza is a regular part of our diet. Here is what happens when leaders stop inspiring on a timeline:

Within 2-4 weeks – Nothing significant changes. However, engagement begins to dip a few points. The focus starts to shift from being mission and habits-focused to outcome-only-focused. 

Within 3-6 months – Visible changes start to happen. There will be some bad turnover in one or two key roles. Meetings and activities will be solely focused on outcomes and results.

Within 18 months – Significant changes start to happen. Turnover is a problem, as crucial team members and those who could have become vital team members have left. HR or Learning and Development has been called in, results have dipped, burnout is high, engagement is low. 

Within 3-5 years – Changes have happened. The leader has been replaced, demoted, or left the role on their own accord. For those that stay, it’s typically because they are the CEO and the work culture is deficient or even toxic. 

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What Leaders Can Do to Keep Inspiring

There are many strategies and tactics leaders can leverage to “breathe life into someone else” consistently. Here are a few of my favorites from leaders featured in Building the Best.

Care about them first.

To inspire your team consistently, they first have to understand how much you care about them. To do this, you must reject the notion that words hold great power. Instead, accept the power of actions. The first action has to be getting to know them on a professional and personal level. 

Great leaders first care about others in order to share the inspiration inside them.

 Start by asking them questions about their journey, experiences, challenges, aspirations, and what drives them. Instead of just going through the motions, be intent on listening and remembering so you can adjust your actions in the future to show them you heard. 

Like all great relationships, the only way to get there is by dedicating time. A mentor of mine always told me, “kids spell love, T-I-M-E.” The same is true in showing people you genuinely care about them. Your time is valuable, and you can’t get it back. Devoting time to someone else indicates that you care, and they are more important to you.

Communicate the Cause

Everybody, whether they admit it or not wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves and do meaningful work during our lives. Part of your responsibility as a leader is to connect yourself to a deeper cause or mission and then do the same for those you get the opportunity to lead. 

 “The leaders that inspire are purpose-driven and constantly repeat the deeper mission behind their work.”

If you lead a team, do not go another minute without being clear on why your team does what it does and its purpose for existence. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without even considering how their work impacts the organization and how it impacts people beyond its walls.  

By connecting people to a deeper cause, you’ll magnify purpose and immediately raise the ceiling of what’s possible. When things get difficult (and they will), this deeper cause will give your team a reason to continue, even through the most trying times. 

Here’s the hard truth about inspiring others. Not everyone will be inspired. Not everyone will buy into the shared cause, and you can’t choose for them. Your responsibility is to inspire them to action, and if they end up making a choice not to get on board, it’s up to you to find someone else that will.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

Drive Better Results and Retention: Exciting news! LearnLoft has partnered with Peoplebox to help provide HR Leaders and Executives an all-in-one engagement and performance platform. Learn More here.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades

Why Great Leaders Focus on Actions Not Intentions

Business concept for growth success process

Most managers and executives don’t intend to fail at leadership. While failing might not mean a demotion or losing a job, it almost certainly includes a disengaged team, poor results, and a high voluntary turnover rate.  

Research suggests that between 50% and 70% of executives fail within 18 months of taking on a role, landing somewhere between “failing spectacularly” or “quietly struggling.”

But not even the most narcissistic professionals set out to fail. Most leaders start with great intentions, but don’t back up those intentions with quality leadership actions.  

Good intentions without quality actions are meaningless in leadership.

Intentions Aren’t Enough in Leadership.

Anyone who has been married for any length of time has used the line “that wasn’t my intention” in an argument or disagreement. Which in turn is met with, “that doesn’t matter.” Maybe I am projecting my shortcomings there, but either way, intentions by themselves aren’t good enough in marriage, and they’re not good enough in leadership either.  

An intention is a person’s design, an aim, or a plan. It comes from the Latin word intention, which means “stretching, purpose.’  

It turns out we all have a set of intentions that we would like to achieve as a leader, but its action on that aim separates managers from leaders. Pablo Picasso famously said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” Not only is Picasso right, but team members and colleagues don’t want to hear about your intentions; they want to experience your actions.  

Team members don’t want to hear about a leader’s intentions, they want to experience quality actions. 

I wrote in Building the Best about a pattern I have observed in many great leaders that lead to their a growth mindset in life and the development of their leadership skills. It’s what I call iAOL; an acronym that stands for intentions, action, outcome, learning. As you can see below, many leaders start with good intentions, but don’t follow through with quality actions. Intentions alone will never lead to learning and development.

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Following up and demonstrating leadership actions regularly isn’t easy. It’s tough because leadership by definition, is all about elevating other people, and the people you lead aren’t perfect and neither are you. 

Here are the four most popular areas where leaders start with good intentions but don’t follow up with quality actions. As you read through them, evaluate whether you have good intentions in these areas or you are backing up those intentions up with quality leadership actions.

Effective Communication

No leader sets out to be a poor communicator, but it’s an all too normal reality. The vast majority of professionals are in a consistent state of miscommunication with their boss or the organization. While this seems like an obvious misstep, team members fill the silence with their own story when leaders don’t communicate effectively.

Instead of allowing extended periods of silence, communicate what you know about the current situation or, at a minimum, the actions you are taking to figure it out.  

Aligned Expectations

Having clearly defined standards and expectations of behavior is at the center of every successful team. Unfortunately, most leaders are in constant disappointment because of the wide gap between their expectations and reality.  

Many leaders are in constant disappointment because of the wide gap between their expectations and reality.  

Instead of having misaligned standards and expectations, remove the invisible barrier. Set the expectations clearly, then do everything in your power to help your team meet and exceed them.  

Continuous Growth and Development

Teams see better results if the people on them are getting better every day. The way this happens is by leaders in a constant state of learning. Karl Popper famously said, “true ignorance is not the absence of knowledge but the refusal to acquire it.” In today’s modern internet, information is more readily available than at any time in history.   

That presentation of information is accompanied by the opportunity to comprehend it. Sometimes we can comprehend the information on our own, and other times we need a teacher, instructor, or expert to help us. Part of your job as a leader is to coach your team to deeper levels of understanding and wisdom.  

Instead of just hoping your people grow and develop, ensure you don’t leave them on an island on their own. Instead, invest in their development and coach them for growth daily.  

Honesty and Integrity

Last but certainly not least, is the mack daddy of them all. Being honest and leading with integrity has become the exception instead of the rule, and that’s beyond sad.

Being honest and leading with integrity has become the exception instead of the rule, and that’s beyond sad.

No one sets out to lie or consistently participate in acts of omission, but once it starts, it’s like an avalanche. Pretty soon, you do it so often it becomes second nature. Nothing will cause a leader to fail more than covering up the truth or lying. When the truth inevitably does come out, it will disintegrate trust, and without trust, you can’t lead.  

Closing

As someone who has failed as a leader, I can tell you first hand it wasn’t fun for me and I know it wasn’t fun for my team. The quicker you grasp the idea that “your intentions don’t make you a leader, your actions do,” the better your odds of success.

Do you agree?

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

7 Skills You Should Develop to Be an Effective Leader

Multicoloured ladders on wall. Pastel tones. Concept for success and growth.

Skill development is a never-ending process. Not only do the great ones in any field recognize this, but they have a borderline obsession to develop and improve their skills daily.

Merriam Webster defines a skill as “the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance.” Skills are often divided into domain-general and domain-specific. For example, golf is a general skill; driving, putting, and chipping are specific skills that make someone an effective golfer.  

Leadership is a general skill; whereas, many domain-specific skills like coaching and empathy make a leader effective in performance. As a leader, you learn new skills every day. However, simply mastering a few skills isn’t enough to be a highly effective leader in today’s environment.

Just mastering a few skills isn’t enough to be a highly effective leader in today’s environment. 

As a ten-year veteran in the leadership coaching and speaking industry, I have been fortunate to have a front-row seat to many great leaders across various industries. If that wasn’t enough, the SkillsLoft Leadership Assessment has provided unbiased research of thousands of leaders. I want to share the seven leadership skills that are the most essential to your success.  

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Demonstrate Empathy

While many skills are essential in this new leadership era, empathy stands above the rest. Before you shake empathy off as a weak skill, let’s get clear on what it is, in the context of leadership. I have come to define it as how well you identify with others to understand their feelings and perceptions in order to guide your actions. I often describe it to coaching clients as “your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act differently because of it.”  

The one thing that every professional wants is to be understood, especially by their boss. 

Empathy is a critical leadership skill because people want to be understood, especially by their boss.

Feelings aren’t always directly communicated, so understanding them can be difficult to do and it’s an art that requires practice. If you want to improve your empathy skills, take a few lessons from an earlier column

Be a Great Communicator  

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams leverage the proper amount of communication and are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Consistent communication is tough, even for good orators. So often, quality communication is a skill that leaders believe they possess; in actuality, it is one of their most significant weaknesses. 

When leaders don’t communicate effectively, team members fill the silence with their own story.

Developing your communication skills around storytelling, writing, and listening is a lifelong journey. 

Act Like a Coach

A leader separates themselves from a manager in today’s modern business environment by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach their team members have never been more critical than they are today. If coaching is a skill, you want to improve, check out the new Coaching for Excellence Program here

Model Servant Leadership

It might seem odd to read that modeling something is a skill, but it’s not. We have all heard the saying, “talk is cheap”; it’s never been more true than in leadership. The best way to create more leaders is to model outstanding leadership in one’s actions and behaviors.  

“The best way to create more leaders is to model servant leadership in your actions and behaviors.”

How you exemplify the standards and behaviors you expect from your team is connected to how committed you are to living out your character and values. This is easy to write, but to do it well takes immense wisdom and self-discipline daily.

Have Great Focus

If there is one thing this Pandemic has taught us, it is how easily distracted we are. Staying focused and prioritizing is not only a skill, but it’s essential for leaders today. If you are anything like me, you suffer from “shiny penny syndrome,” and you act like a squirrel moving quickly from one thing to the next. 

Suzanne Anschutz, Regional VP and Director of Leadership Development at Cora Physical Therapy, said it well, “The leaders of today need to be able to be fully present. There is such a strong sense of urgency and moving quickly in today’s world, but we should not underestimate the power of taking the time to be present in the moment. Understanding what is happening “right now” will allow you to strategize for a better future.”

Unite People and Create Belonging

Making people feel like they belong and uniting team members is a leadership superpower. Look no further than the hit show Ted Lasso on Apple TV. The show portrays an American coaching a European Soccer club. Coach Lasso knows the team can’t and won’t succeed without the team members feeling like they belong, and are a part of something bigger than themselves.  

While Lasso does his coaching in person, most managers don’t have this luxury today when leading a remote team. For those teams that plan on staying 100% WFH, leaders must think about one or two in-person events a year, with its primary mission to create teamwork and belonging. 

Make Accountability an Obligation

Last but certainly not least is accountability. Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here or join an upcoming Leverage Accountability Workshop.

Closing

There are many other key leadership skills that just missed the list like; decision-making, emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, and vision. Which of the 7 key skills do you believe are most important? Which skills are missing that deserve to be on the list? Tell me in the comments.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

One Word Micromanagers Use That You Must Avoid

Conflict management

With leadership comes responsibility. A significant portion of that responsibility includes being accountable for team members’ behaviors. While this might sound like no big deal, trying to influence or control what other people do is hard.  

The strategies and tactics managers leverage but are not limited to include; setting clear standards, aligning teams to core values, defining hiring processes, providing coaching, and having difficult dialogues. While all of these are effective and things I teach leaders to use, there is a less effective method many managers adhere to called micromanaging. 

Now before you act as you have never micromanaged, stop right there. You have been guilty of it, and I have as well. To closely observe, control, or remind others what they should be doing or how they should be doing is an easy thing to do when you are ultimately responsible for their choices. But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it correct.

What is Micromanagement and Why Do We Do It?

The term micromanagement has skyrocketed in popularity in the last few decades. Webster defines it as “manage[ment] especially with excessive control or attention on details.” It has a negative connotation both in the marketplace and to employees because it limits the freedom to complete jobs or tasks instead of trusting things will be done correctly. 

Managers tend to micromanage for one of three reasons:

  • Comfort – Many managers were successful in the role the people they now lead are currently work in, so it’s comfortable for them to get in the weeds. 
  • Connectedness – There is a sense of being a unit when a manager helps do the work with their team. 
  • Importance – No manager wants to feel they aren’t necessary anymore. So they micromanage to feel important. 

Many full-fledged micromanagers have been exposed and removed from their position in the last few years because of high turnover rates, engagement surveys, and 360° Leadership assessments. However, the best leaders know there is a fine line between setting high standards and coaching someone and reminding others what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.  

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Since most managers don’t have an overt problem with micromanagement, they often do small things that lead to their people feeling micromanaged. These small things tend to be the words they use and when they use them.  

Leaders can make small changes in communication to lead to big changes in performance. 

One word managers use to modify the behavior of an employee is the word “Don’t.” Not only is it a micromanaging word, but it’s demotivating to people. Here is how managers typically use it:

  • Don’t do it that way.”
  • Don’t miss the deadline.”
  • Don’t say it like that; say it like this.”

Writing these statements that start with “don’t” exudes a manager trying to control, not inspire. Since inspiration is a key to elevating others, breathing life into team members will help change behavior with an internal trigger instead of an external motivator.  

The best leaders don’t control, they inspire.

The word “don’t” has a negative connotation, and it stirs up feelings of defensiveness in people. Instead of responding positively, more often than not, it will have someone responding a begrudgingly way.  

Just check out these same statements communicated without the word “don’t.”

  • “Do you need any help making the deadline?”
  • “Try saying it this way to see if you get a better response.”
  • “I love your effort; if you modify your technique there is a chance it’s easier for you.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the enormous difference between a leader communicating like this versus one using the word “don’t.”

Closing

Eliminating or modifying a word from “don’t” from your managerial language won’t be easy. The challenge to you this week is to take a mental checklist around how often you say the word “don’t” to your colleagues, teammates, significant other, or even your kids.

Once you recognize the extent of your “don’t” habit, then it’s time to change your language moving forward to something more positive, inspirational, and encouraging.  

Leverage Accountability in Leadership: The development of your accountability skills will make a tremendous difference in helping you lead your best in 2021. Join me for the next Leveraging Accountability in LeadershipWorkshop! https://bit.ly/3uCLzFF

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Simple Phrases Great Leaders Say to Their Team

communication

Managers are constantly communicating with their employees to transfer knowledge and information. This communication is crucial to the success of any team or organization; but, only if it is performed appropriately. Barking orders, giving directives, inserting negative comments, and providing unempathetic feedback are also communication methods, but they won’t give you the same success rate.  

Anyone is susceptible to getting caught up in the daily hustle and forget the weight and consequences of the words they use, neglect to use, or how they affect other people.  

Great leaders don’t lose sight of the power of their words, even long after they have said them.

John Eades

Early in my career leading a business division, I had yet to grasp this important concept. At the end of a one-on-one performance review, a team member asked if they could provide feedback to me after I finished her review. My team member said, “Recently, your attitude and words have taken a pessimistic and negative turn with myself and others. It seems you are highlighting everything the group is doing wrong versus the things we are doing right. While I know you are a positive person, this has become a pattern, and it’s wearing on the team and me.”  

My first reaction was to get defensive and make excuses. Instead, I thanked her for her courage and agreed to do some self-reflection. Over the next few days, I evaluated her specific examples and concluded she was speaking the truth. She told me because she cared and wanted me to improve. 

It taught me an important lesson that I have since seen in many of the great leaders I have studied:

Leaders don’t take things personally; they seek the truth because all improvement starts with it.  

While no leader is a perfect communicator, there are phrases the best leaders say consistently to their team members that make them more effective.   

1. “I’m not going to be perfect, and I don’t expect you to be either.”

It’s easy for professionals to look up to someone in a leadership position and fool themselves into believing they are perfect. For a leader to put the truth on the table and say, “I’m not going to be perfect, and I don’t expect you to be either,” creates a foundation of empathy and forgiveness. It expresses to your people that you are human and you know that they are human. Together you are allowed to make mistakes.

When those mistakes happen, we will admit the mistake, learn from it, and then work to not make the same ones in the future. As I wrote in Building the Best, “Failure is not final, failure is feedback.”

2. “Thank you.”

Saying “thank you” is simple, and it must be done often because it means a lot to your team. Those two little words are magical; people desperately want to be acknowledged for the work they do.  

Don’t just take my words for it. A recent study by US psychologists in the journal Psychological Science provides clinical proof of what many of us already knew: Saying “thank you” can positively transform your relationship with others. 

3. “What Have You Done Today to Help Yourself Tomorrow?”

The best leaders are obsessed with helping others reach their potential. Even with this obsession, they know they can’t do it all for their team. Each person has to make the daily decisions and self-disciplined choices to get a little better today than they were yesterday.  

The best leaders are obsessed with helping others reach their potential

By using a phrase like, “what have you done today to help yourself tomorrow,” challenges your team to not only think but act differently. I share a great story on the topic of a grasshopper and the ant in a video on LinkedIn that’s worth your time. Maybe you will share the story with your team when you ask them the question.

4. “Tell Me More.”

One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager is the mindset they take to coaching others. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. Coaching comes from the word “carriage,” meaning to take someone from point A to point B.  

In our Coaching for Excellence workshops, I teach leaders to leverage questions and statements to help their team solve their own problems. A simple statement like “tell me more” is a fantastic coaching technique to allow others to get their entire point across before a leader swoops in to solve it for them.  

Leaders withhold answers as long as possible to give people the space to solve their own problems first.  

Reject your instincts to interject your insight and opinions by using “tell me more” daily. Often people will answer their own questions without you having to be the hero. 

5. “What can I do to help you?”

There are many forms of leadership, but the concept of servant leadership has emerged as an effective leadership style. The concept behind servant leadership is to flip the traditional hierarchical management model on its head. Instead of your team working for you, you work for them.  

Gary Vaynerchuck shared this LinkedIn post recently that describes it perfectly, “Do for them, not what can they do for you! Good workers come from great bosses.”

6. “What are your personal goals?”

Work and careers have changed dramatically in the last 30 years. It was typical for someone to stay with one company for 30+ years, which is now an anomaly. Professionals have embraced the idea of movement and side hustles to achieve their professional goals. 

While most managers put their heads in the sand or reject this reality, the best leaders do the opposite. They embrace this shift and participate in helping their people achieve their personal goals.  

One of the most powerful questions any leader can ask their team is, “what are your personal goals?” If you want to take it a step further, at the beginning of every year, ask each team member, “What are your goals for this year?” this will help you align your activities and coaching to ensure they achieve them.  

Coaching for Excellence: The development of your coaching skills will make a tremendous difference in helping you lead your best in 2021. Join me for the next Coaching for Excellence Workshop. Sign up and get “8 Questions to Leverage to Be a Better Coach” for free today! https://bit.ly/3goZLv2

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Motivate a Team That’s Complacent

Hands holding sparking fire

It’s hard to imagine anyone would sign up to become complacent. Complacency conjures visuals of an unengaged workforce, boredom, and marriages on life support. However, while deficient in many ways, complacency can be the catalyst that energizes, invigorates, and propels a person, team, or relationship to meet its full potential. 

It turns out, in the last few years, we were in a little bit of a complacency bubble. Research completed by an Achievers survey in 2019 found 70.1% of employees did not consider themselves “very engaged,” but only 34% of those professionals had a plan to look for a different job. While I hesitate to use any research done prior to the pandemic, it was clear employees weren’t engaged, yet they were comfortable staying where they were.  

Only time will tell if this pandemic will be the catalyst for causing the complacency bubble to burst in our workplaces; this will always be a challenge. Complacent is defined as feeling so satisfied with your own abilities or situation that you feel you do not need to try and harder. In our research studying leaders, even those in positions of leadership or ones with great responsibility, aren’t immune to feeling satisfied that they don’t need to try any harder.  

As you can see in the image below, our commitment will constantly be tested as time continues. 

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It’s each leader and team member’s responsibility to Reject Complacency and Embrace Growth.

Are You Embracing Growth 

One of the biggest causes of complacency is a lack of self-awareness that it’s happening.Like I said earlier, no one sets out to become complacent. If you are anything like me, you have got on a scale to weigh yourself and were caught by surprise at the inflated number. That number didn’t happen by accident, it happened because I got complacent in my choices and habits, and I lost awareness of it.   

There is a simple question to ask yourself to determine if you are embracing growth or falling complacent. “Am I actively working on getting better at ________?” Here are a few examples:

“Am I actively working on getting better as a leader?”

“Am I actively working on getting better in key technical skills?

“Am I actively working on getting better in my marriage?”

“Am I actively working on getting better in my faith walk?”

While the question is simple to ask, the answer can be complicated, especially if you aren’t self-aware. The ultimate test is to pose the question to someone close to you who would give you an objective and honest answer. The combination of your two answers is where the truth lies. 

Teams, Just Like Leaders, Can Become Complacent

If you find yourself leading a team that has become complacent and isn’t meeting or exceeding what they are capable of, it’s not time to sit back and hope it gets better. Hope isn’t a strategy. You need a tactical guide on how to rally a complacent team. Give some of these a shot to inject life into your group: 

1. Accept the reality of complacency.

LearnLoft partners with HR leaders to help their executives and managers to lead their best. Many of these leaders aren’t ready to accept that their team has become complacent. They find a myriad of excuses for the lack of effort, energy, and intensity the team displays on a day in and day out basis. Get into the proper headspace and embrace the reality of the situation so you can look to make some changes.  

2. Narrow down a list of causes for the complacency.

Since the ability to become satisfied with a situation can come from many different places, part of your job is to identify the root causes for the team as a whole or key individuals on the team.  

A few of the typical reasons include:

  • Being overpaid
  • Work is no longer challenging
  • Outcomes lose their original meaning

There is a less popular reason, and that is getting a lot of praise and accolades for success. On a recent episode of 3 Things with Ric Elias, Coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats said, “It’s everyone’s job not to drink the poison of praise.” This makes incredible sense because the praise and recognition come from falling in love with the grind and the process of where the results come from.  

3. Open Up the Lines of Communication

Once you have a few strong suspicions for what might be causing the complacency, it’s time to open up the lines of communication with the team. Create an environment that allows people to say what needs to be said. Often this means air out grievances or feelings people have been holding onto.  

“Teams can’t perform at their best when things that need to be said are going unsaid.” 

Open and honest communication allows teams to say the things that need to be said which creates the space to recommit to the effort required for success.

4. Reconnect the Team to the Cause 

Reconnecting your team to the reason it exists in the first place is a great place to begin when the complacency bubble is in full effect. The reason is simple, as time passes it’s easy to forget why we are on this mission in the first place. 

A clear cause is instrumental in achieving higher levels of success.  

Do not go another minute without being clear on why your team is doing what it’s doing. It’s easy for people to get lost in the monotony of their everyday work without considering how their work impacts the larger organization and customers. 

If you’re unsure how to communicate this to your team, start by answering these two complicated yet straightforward questions:

What do you do, and why do you do it? (Hint: it’s got to be more than making money)

It’s easy to skim past this question, but I’m challenging you to pause. Reread it and ask yourself if each member of your team could answer it with clarity. If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

5. Challenge the Team with Smaller Goals

The verb form of the word “team” means coming together as a group to achieve a common goal. Complacent teams or people need a challenge to get excited about, which means you have to set a goal the team cares about achieving. Any random revenue or earning goal won’t do.  

Great leaders define short term goals their team cares about achieving.

Research has revealed that setting challenging and specific goals further enhance employee engagement in attaining those goals. Google uses Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s) to help managers and their teams perform better. Start small and get the team back in the mode of achieving goals that challenge them to be focused and at their best. 

Closing

Instead of looking at complacency as a dead end, it’s time to leverage it as a catalyst for growth. If you or your team find yourself complacent, now is the time to put some do something about it. You are just the leader to reject complacency and embrace growth.

How do you reject complacency and embrace growth? Provide some insight in the comments to help others do the same.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Lead a High Performing Team

Innovation and creative idea concept

Traditionally, people were promoted into leadership positions because they were viewed as a top individual contributor, a type-A extrovert, and/or a supremely confident professional. This results from what’s called a “promote to retain” strategy implemented by many organizations. 

While retaining top talent is vitally important, it’s also critical for organizations to promote people into positions of leadership that can drive performance and make a positive impact on the people they get the opportunity to lead.

There is one predictor of leaders like this regardless if they were a top individual contributor or not, and it’s not where organizations have previously focused. Leaders who have a servant’s heart sustain positive business results and achieve high employee engagement scores.  

After studying so many leaders with a servant’s heart in all different industries, roles, and backgrounds, it turns out they are doing many things right to have a high performing team. It’s what I refer to as “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best.” These are a list of things which by themselves are important, but they tend to compound and build upon each other. Here they are with a brief description of each to help you leverage them with your team as well.

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Leadership Methodology

Over the last 30 years, methodologies have skyrocketed in popularity because they provide a backbone and structure to do any difficult job. From sales to research to project management and now leadership.  

Many of the best modern leaders we have studied either knowingly or unknowingly use a servant leadership methodology and use high levels of love and discipline in the way they lead. Robert Greenleaf said it well, “Servant leadership always empathizes, always accepts the person, but sometimes refuses to accept some of the person’s effort or performance as good enough.”

Relationships

The key to leadership is relationships because, without strong relationships, you can’t lead. High performing teams have bonds of mutual trust and respect. Where most leaders struggle is in understanding their responsibility to earn those two things. Long gone are the days of a title commanding respect. In today’s workplaces, a title should only be a reminder of your responsibility to your people.

While this seems obvious, many leaders skip relationship building and jump right into accountability to drive performance. This is a massive mistake because 

Rules without relationships lead to rebellion. 

Instead of assuming the relationships with your team members are strong, make time with each team member to ask this powerful question: “How are you and your family coping during the pandemic?”

Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders of high-performing teams not only leverage the proper amount of communication but also are clear, concise, and conclusive. 

Effective leaders are great communicators.

The best modern leaders are constantly looking to improve how they communicate by evaluating their verbal, written, and body language.  

Shared Purpose

People in organizations don’t get burned out because of their work; they get burned out because they forget WHY they do the work they do. Because of this, leaders of high-performing teams are constantly reminding their teams of the deeper purpose behind the work they do.  

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is believing it’s not their job to connect their team to a deeper purpose. Don’t fall into poor thinking. Embrace the responsibility that you are the connector of cause.  

Standards

For teams to keep getting better, leaders must raise the bar of what’s expected. The reason is that team members’ behaviors and habits are always going to default to the bar set. The best modern leaders embrace this by relying on standards. 

A standard is defined as “what good looks like.” If you want to leverage standards, don’t define what good looks like, but to go beyond that and define what great looks like.

Be crystal clear, concise, and focused. Limit yourself to as few standards as possible so they can be remembered and applied.

Execution

The teams that execute their strategy and plans to near perfection will always achieve more than teams who do not. George Patton famously said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” As right as Patton is, it’s the leaders on a team who are responsible for removing barriers and putting people in the right positions to execute to the best of their abilities.  

Accountability 

Accountability is one of these words that has been hijacked. I define it in Building the Best as; the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. 

It is the obligation of leaders to account for their actions and the actions of their people.  

Leaders are obligated to care for all their people equally and to serve their hearts, not their talents. 

 If you want to model how the best modern leaders leverage accountability, get comfortable with having difficult dialogues, which I wrote about here.

Coaching

One way a leader separates themselves from being a manager in today’s modern business environment is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. The late great John Whitmore took the formal definition even further, saying:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential and helping them learn rather than teaching them.”

Leaders who coach have never been more critical than they are today. A strong, dedicated leader plays an integral role in elevating people to new heights, exactly how John Whitmore envisioned it.  

Closing

Every leader began somewhere. Regardless of whether you were promoted to a leadership position because of a “promote and retain strategy” or for some other reason, now is the time to embrace responsibility and develop servant’s heart. Once these are in place, work hard to understand, master, and apply “The Great 8 to Lead Your Best” on an ongoing basis.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Leaders Who Are Great Communicators Do These 6 Things

communication bubbles

While having an aspirational vision or a well-thought-out strategy are keys for becoming a successful leader; however, your vision and strategy won’t translate to reality if you cannot communicate them effectively.

Take Gerard, a regional manager at a medium-sized business, as an example. During a coaching session, he raved about how he communicated the team’s new strategy coming out of COVID at his latest all-hands team meeting.

While I typically take leaders at their word, I was a bit stunned because my interviews with his team members told me a different story. 

These are just a few of the things they said:

“He said so much; I don’t even know where to start.” 

“He was so focused on his role; he forgot the challenges I face in mine.” 

“He rambled a lot making him hard to understand.”

From all our work studying and helping leaders, I know Gerald isn’t alone. Often, communication is a skill leaders believe they excel in, but in actuality is one of their most significant weaknesses. 

Nothing hinders a leader’s performance more than their inability to communicate effectively. 

To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, I collected some of my favorite daily habits we have gathered from leaders who are great communicators. 

They Seek Stories and Tell Them

In a world of data-driven business, that some call management, it can be easy to only focus on numbers and results. Sure these things matter, but by themselves, they can bore and be uninspiring. 

Great communicators know this, and they are constantly looking for stories and telling them all the time. Joe Lazauskas gave us a reason this makes so much since “Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.” 

If you want to get better storytelling, study the three arcs of a story, and always look for stories in books, movies, or sports.

They Ask Themselves What the Key Takeaway Is

Effective communication is at the heart of effective leadership. James Humes famously said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Bad leaders not only struggle with the proper amount of communication, but they often leave their team members confused instead of clear.

It’s impossible to be an effective leader without being a great communicator.

Great communicators overcome this by asking themselves a simple but difficult question before delivering their message, “what is the key takeaway I want the audience to take with them.” If you mimic this habit daily, you will be amazed at how you will use the 3C’s of Successful communication. Your words will be clear, concise, and conclusive.  

They Say “You” and “We” More than “I” and “Me”

As I wrote in Building the Best, “Communication has more to do with the audience than the person doing the communicating.” This means great communicators use words like “you” and “we” much more often than “I” and “me.”

While this habit seems small and inconsequential, our brains are always evaluating the potential “pain” or “gain” to ourselves. Hearing “you” or “we” locks us into the message being delivered versus the other way around.

They Constantly Repeat Standards and Expectations

Early on, I found myself frustrated with my team. In a conversation with a very wise mentor, he gave me some great advice, “Expectations are the seeds of resentment.” What made it even worse is that I had expectations, but never told my team. I just expected them to know what I was thinking. 

Bad leaders pass judgments based on their expecations not being met, without ever communicating them. 

Great leaders not only set and maintain high standards for themselves and their team members, but they also communicate them all the time. They think of themselves as the CRO “Chief Repetition Officer.” Go ahead and raise the bar around what’s expected from your team and communicate it until you feel like a broken record. 

They Are Always Aware Of Body Language.

Communication doesn’t just happen through verbal or written words—a major part of communication through body language. Bad leaders either don’t realize this or they don’t care.  

A study of teachers and students in the 1990s by Psychologists Robert Rosenthal and Nalini Ambady found students needed to only watch the body language of a teacher in short segments to make judgments that accurately predicted teacher end of year evaluations. They noted, “Body language is by far the most important factor, and the teacher’s words barely mattered, it’s evident we communicate a great deal of information about ourselves through our body language.”

When an employee sees you and recognizes positive and powerful body language, they immediately are more interested in the words you might say. They will be able to conclude what you are communicating by your body language alone.  

They Listen Intently to Things Most Don’t

I asked a question to leaders recently in this post, “If you could go back to your first day leading a team, what would you do differently based on what you know now?” The number #1 answer was some form of listening. It turns out; listening is also a habit of all great communicators.

You can start to separate yourself as a communicator, not just by being a good listener but listening intently to the things most people don’t. Try locking into the conversations colleagues have, what customers are saying, or even the body language that sheds light on what people are thinking and feeling. It will drastically improve the way you communicate with others.

Closing

No matter if you have these habits in down yet or not, communication is one of those skills that’s worth your constant effort and attention to improve.  

As you put in the effort, you will be better equipped to guide your team in the right direction and execute your team’s strategy.

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping improve the performance of struggling managers. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.