Sometimes being a consultant is a lot of fun.

good communication

Once I was working on a consulting assignment out of my home area, interim in a leadership position. I hadn’t been there long, but early on I seemed to be making an imprint on the local community; at least as far as the people I was working with were saying.

In a little over two weeks I’d heard some of the nicest comments anywhere. On one typical day, I had one director tell me he wanted to give me a high five because in an hour I solved an issue they’d been trying to fix for almost a year. I had some people in one of my departments tell me that I'd explained something to them that no one else had ever taken the time to teach them. Later I had another director tell me that it was nice being able to talk to someone who understood her department and her issues. And I had another employee tell me she hoped I would stay on forever; that didn't happen. 🙂

Those are pretty nice things to hear, but I had an interesting discussion with another consultant the next day who offered something that was more thought provoking than anything else I heard, and it made me think the most.

She'd been there longer than me, so she knew all the players and heard some of the commentary. As she was telling me some of this stuff, and acknowledging what people were saying to her about me (I was an underground success to that point), she said “I wonder why some of these people don’t speak up and express some of their issues to upper management."

I'd actually already figured that one out. My belief was that they all felt as though anything they said would be held against them, and that no one would listen to their concerns. My thinking was justified because I'd already encountered that with the person I was reporting to. There’s no doubt in my mind that had they gone to upper management it would have made their lives miserable for at least a short period of time.

There are those managers who need to lead by intimidation because they aren’t capable of leading by example. They offer snap responses to questions without explanation and don’t take kindly to being questioned about those answers. They usually feel that nothing's their fault and that they're smarter than everyone else around them. Bring them a problem or an issue they should already know about, they're going to gripe that no one ever gives them correct information... no matter how many times they've seen it.

There's a couple of problems with that. One, many in leadership positions forget that they’re in the business of thinking, promoting, and hitting target figures. Without proper information, problems arise and nothing gets done except a lot of people getting blamed for everything.

Two, When you continuously tell employees that everything's their fault when they bring you bad news, they'll stop bringing you any news. Even if it's good news, they either won't know it's good news or believe you're going to take credit for it. This leads to a total communications breakdown.

There wasn't any wonder as to why they thought I was so good; look at who they were comparing me to. When leaders shut down communications between themselves and others, they become less efficient and probably won't last long in their positions.

To offer a bit of help, here are 5 ways to help breakdown the walls of communication between leadership and everyone else; so simple even the strongest introverts can do it. 😉

1. Invite people into your private space

I'm not saying you have to post a memo or send out an email, but those things won't hurt. You need to find a way to let everyone know that not only can they come to you with issues, but that your office is a safe space where information can be passed without judgment.

2. Invoke the chain of command, but be ready to break it

It looks bad when employees go around the people they report to in order to pass along information that everyone should know about. At the very least, you need to establish that issues should go to their direct reports first before they come to you. If they continue coming to you, it might indicate a problem with the person they report to; that's a question you need to explore if it's a continuing problem.

3. Listen

This should be easy, but it's the biggest thing most leaders have trouble doing. Even if you already know the answer to their situation, or you want to break in to address something in the middle of the story, it's always best to take notes and respond to everything once they've finished.

4. Know what you're talking about before you respond too affirmatively

Many leaders think they're supposed to know everything, when it's obvious that no one is omnipotent. If you know the answer or resolution to their issue, then go ahead and tell them. If not, tell them you need time to research it before you can do anything about it. It's always better to be correct than fast.

5. Resolve something and make sure everyone knows

Too often employee information is disregarded, and that's a major faux pas. It's almost as bad as blaming the messenger for telling you the problem in the first place. Leaders need to show that not only are they listening to people but they're actually trying to do something about it. All issues can't be solved satisfactorily, but everyone appreciates the effort... even the leader!