You’ve worked hard for several years and distinguished yourself as a top performer in your company. Recently the hard work and sacrifice paid off; you were promoted to a management position. You’ve begun the transition from a high-performing individual contributor to a high performing new manager, and you want to distinguish yourself as a strong leader. You find yourself having a ton of conversations with your team and with your boss and have the nagging feeling that you aren’t well prepared for all of these conversations. Something tells you that you need some help to make sure that your management communication skills develop quickly so that you can maximize your potential. Congratulations, and welcome to the exciting world of managing and leading, and getting results through influencing others.
I wanted to put together some good suggested best practices for a new manager about how to approach communications. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it made sense to develop a handy little ‘Top Ten’ list. Believe me, there are a million great ideas about how to communicate when you’re just getting started as a manager, so here is my version of the New Manager Communication Ten Commandments. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek…)
- Thou Shalt Tell Your Team Why – Nobody appreciates being told: “because I said so”… as the justification for any order or assignment. Talented people need to be treated with respect and valued for their contributions. So, help them to become motivated and engaged by giving them a good business reason for everything that you ask them to do. Put your requests and assignments into context and your team will find it easy to get excited about helping to deliver the required results. If you’ve never given this much thought, I recommend that you watch Simon Sinek’s excellent TED Talk about motivation, and read his great business best seller “Start With Why”. If you show your team that your assignments can be logically linked to the company and team results that we’re trying to achieve, they will commit and hold themselves accountable to delivering results.
- Thou Shalt Say It Clearly – I think we’ve all had a boss or two who loved the sound of their own voice and could complicate a conversation in the drop of a hat. Life is short, and nobody wants to listen to a long, rambling diatribe. Talk with your team in a simple, clear way, and work hard to speak economically. If you can describe what you want in language that can be understood by a third grader, your intentions will be obvious, and your team will not be confused about what is needed. Another important aspect of your communication is to be brief. Don’t be a person of many words and over-complicate things. Say it, and watch the body language of your audience to make sure that they heard you and understood. A great technique to ensure that your message was received is to ask your staff to summarize what you just discussed and what is going to happen next.
- Thou Shalt Listen Intently – Too many times, communication breaks down because the manager is not listening when their team is providing feedback in a conversation. While valuable information is being given to us, we can sometimes be formulating our rebuttal or our response, instead of listening with the intent of really understanding the person we’re speaking with. My Dad used to tell me that I had two ears and two eyes on my head and only one mouth. He suggested to me that I give strong consideration to using them in proportion. Great advice then, and still great advice today, don’t you think? If we’re talking all the time, and dominating the conversation, we’re not going to send a very good message to our audience, and we’re not going to learn much from the conversation. Listen actively, and remember that you have to listen with your ears AND also with your eyes. Much of the meaning in a conversation is conveyed by body language, emphasis on a phrase, the tone of voice, etc. The exact words that are used can often be least of the context and meaning of what is being said, so pay attention to the other clues.
- Thou Shalt Remain Positive – I heard somewhere that nobody wants to be around people who are constantly downbeat and negative. I have no doubt that it is true. Occasionally I am required to spend significant time with people who are relentlessly negative, and frankly, I find it exhausting. I believe that your team would prefer for you to be the optimistic believer who inspires them to become their best selves and to accomplish meaningful and challenging work that fulfills them. It’s too easy to focus on the positive once you get into the swing of it, but it’s just as easy to get caught up in being caustic and negative if you’re not careful. Set a great example as you communicate by being positive, and being sure to praise your team publicly when they are doing great things. Occasionally, you will have to comment on work that didn’t turn out as well as hoped, and those critical conversations should always be held in private to avoid embarrassing your team members.
- Thou Shalt Treat Your Team With Respect – It amazes me that there are “Old School” managers and leaders out there who actually believe that it’s OK to treat their teammates like they are children. Hey, let’s be clear, nobody wants to be treated like children, not even children (Remember pining for a seat at the table with the grown-ups at Thanksgiving?). Your best bet is to commit to showing your team respect at all times, and expect them to conduct themselves like mature adults at all times. Set expectations early and often, and give your people reasons to treat you with respect, by treating them with respect. Make “Respect” one of the values that your team must observe at all times, and then when someone slips and behaves in a destructive manner, you can talk about the behavior and avoid having to make judgments about the person.
- Thou Shalt Demonstrate Your Commitment – You can choose to be committed to a number of things. Personally, I recommend growth, whether we’re talking about the personal growth of your individual teammates, YOUR personal growth, or the growth of the team collectively. Also, I recommend learning, which goes hand in hand with growth. If we all have a learning mindset and a growth mindset, we’re going to seize a lot of new opportunities and avoid a lot of excuse making and bellyaching. Your team will want to know what you are going to do for them, as you manage the team. Be clear with them about your intentions. Tell them that of course, you want to lead the team to consistently positive results, but that you believe that the BEST way to ensure that happens is to commit to developing, training, and coaching the members of your team so that they can become stronger and more versatile along the way. The world is a place of abundance, and by keeping your eye on developing your team to a fine edge, you can help them to master the skills and experiences that will allow them to increase their value to the team, the company, their families, the industry and the marketplace. This will help you to earn their trust and admiration.
- Thou Shalt Consistently Build Trust – You will need to be very careful about how you speak with your team. If you are worthy of trust nine days in a row, and then lose your cool on the tenth day and destroy everyone’s psychological sense of safety, the team will not know which person to expect on day eleven. Don’t be that inconsistent person. Choose your words with care. Choose your tone of voice with care. Eschew sarcasm; there is no place for it in business. Be specific about what you want, what you’ve observed and what you want to see in the future. Be fair with your team, and speak with them in ways that demonstrate your maturity and emotional intelligence, and you will build a phenomenal base of trust. If your people don’t trust you, you will not be able to motivate them or influence them to engage in the behaviors that lead to success. With trust, teams can accomplish anything!
- Thou Shalt Be Proportionally Appropriate – We spoke earlier of the importance of being positive instead of negative as your regular communication style. There will be times when you will have to correct behavior and to provide criticism to one of your teammates. Here is a great thought: Leverage the 80/20 rule in how you communicate with your team. During a given day, week, or month, you should watch closely to be certain that 80% of the time you are being positive, supportive and praising your team for their great deeds. On the flip side, you should be able to provide criticism and engage in corrective conversations 20% of the time or less. Remember, that nobody wants to be around Debbie Downer, so remember the importance of being supportive and positive MOST of the time, and only corrective once in a while.
- Thou Shalt Be Timely – Remember this, you can do everything right and lose the confidence of your team by being afraid of conflict. When things are going wrong, it is ALWAYS best to address the issue with specific positive intent, before things get worse. It helps to THINK about conflict differently. If you assume that a conflict conversation is going to turn ugly and be very emotionally challenging, it most likely will. If on the other hand, you decide that your conversation with your boss or your teammate doesn’t have to be combative, and a win/lose proposition, things may go much smoother. Choose your attitude and ask your teammates to choose their attitude when conflict comes along, and encourage everyone involved to remember that we’re all on the same team, and we’re all trying to serve the same customers, and have fun while we work. I like to encourage the team to work hard to engage in Constructive Conflict and to find creative ways to solve problems so that EVERYONE wins. That is a better mindset going into a conflict than expecting a battle royal.
- Thou Shalt Remember That Tomorrow Is Another Day – When you’re working with others, sometimes the cards that you need for a winning hand don’t get dealt to you. It’s great to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and to remind the team that you’re maintaining that we will win most days, and occasionally, we will learn some painful lessons and have some rough days. That’s to be expected. Mentally tough people remember that resilience allows us to come back tomorrow and try again. Especially at the beginning of their careers, too many employee associates and first-time managers react to a setback like the sun will not rise tomorrow. Don’t overreact, and don’t allow your teammates to overreact either. Shake off the disappointment and realize that the things that don’t kill us make us stronger. Look forward to coming back tomorrow and trying something different to solve your problem.
I apologize for the Ten Commandments approach to this exercise but thought it might be a fun way to present the content. I hope you will indulge me and forgive me. I’d like to hear from you about your communication questions or YOUR communication best practices as a new emerging leader or manager. Communication is a critical component of becoming a good manager and leaders must be tremendous communicators. Invest in yourself and get outside of your comfort zone and realize that with effort you will become a better communicator quickly be wading into the water and getting wet. You have to give it a try, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to communicate well when you work at it.
Michael is a Business Advisor to CEOs, Executive Teams, and Leaders at small and medium sized companies around the US and Europe. Michael has developed a program to help Emerging Leaders to become seasoned and accomplished managers and leaders in a very short period of time. Michael is very confident that his program will deliver ambitious results for you and your company that he offers a performance guarantee. If you are an Emerging Leader, and you’d like to speak with Michael about his Emerging Leader Executive Development Coaching Program, just send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you join us in commenting on this blog, Michael will send you a free white paper on Best Practices for Emerging Leaders, just be sure to include your email address when you add your comment.