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Monday, February 7, 2011

Got Leadership Deficiencies? The Remedy is Almost Always Better Communication

Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric was delivering a speech in midtown Manhattan recently and the Q&A that followed covered a variety of relevant business topics. I asked an outlier: “Where would you rank ‘communication skills’ among all that is expected of a great leader?” He said “Communication is a top THREE leadership skill.” (Emphasis his). In fact, not only is effective communications a critical leadership skill, it is often the solution to other leadership deficiencies.

A recent article in the ‘Management’ section of Bloomberg Business discusses “Leaders’ Top Ten Blind-Spots.” Two elements really struck us about this top ten list: First was that poor communications skills is at the core of so many of them. (Or, at least an unwillingness to apply good communication skills.) Second, the solution almost always involved good or improved communication skills.

We took a random sample of three of the ‘blind spots’ in the article and tested our theory. Here’s what we came up with:

Going It Alone This was number one on the list. Poor communications was described as a symptom: “not talking about your stress or anxiety…” And, of course, central to the solution was improving communications: “Talk with others about your tendency to solve problems by yourself.” Not only do we agree with the advice, it’s proving our point that communication is at the root of both the problem and solution.

Avoiding Difficult Conversations At number four, the symptoms include a leader’s tendency to dance around an issue by avoiding tough discussions -- a bad communication trait. And the solution revolves around the art of being candid, forthright and addressing situations immediately, while also being sensitive and respectful, - all critical leadership communication skills. Ok, we’re two for two here.

Withholding Emotional Commitment Here it is arguable whether the core of the problem is communication, but clearly, the solution is all about communicating better. “When you are unable to fully commit, communicate and share where you are stuck instead of letting your behavior do the talking.” Not only is communication the leader’s way to improve this deficiency, it reminds us that nonverbal communication is very real and can have a deep, negative impact when coming from someone in a leadership postion.

As communication professionals, we might add one ‘blind spot” to this list and that is the failure of the CEO to properly rehearse for a key presentation. We recently blogged on this “The myth of "I do better in the actual speech or presentation than I do in rehearsal."
I encourage you to check out the rest of these ‘leader blind spots’ and I’m sure you’ll recognize a couple of traits many of us share and observe in others.

But, what others are there? Do you agree that communication is often at the root of the problem and almost always the solution? Got any examples to share?

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