“When we view our path with clarity, we move with accelerated purpose and intent. We go forward with a full and committed heart.” ― Kevin Hall
What is the greatest tool you have as a leader? Every leader has this tool in their box, but not every leader has the skill to use the tool effectively, if at all. Notice I said tool and not skill.
Suppose you had a paintbrush and wanted to paint a beautiful piece like the Sistine Chapel. Could you do it? Maybe you could, but I am no artist so, no one would rave about my art. Just because I have the tool or paintbrush, doesn’t make me an artist. And just because I have the tools of leadership, it doesn’t make me a leader. Having the tool and having the skill to effectively use it are not the same.
Do you know what the tool is yet? If you said communication you were correct. Now the question to answer is are you an effective communicator?
What are you talking about Willis?
I didn't ask if you are a good talker, but are you an effective communicator. If the only tool a carpenter had was a hammer, then he would treat every situation as if it were a nail. Do you do this as a leader? Do you pull out the same tool to communicate with your team no matter the situation or no matter who you are talking to?
Put away the hammer
Communication is the greatest tool you have as a leader; however, I know many leaders who are not very good at using this tool. Some leaders come into the office and never get out and communicate with their team, only seeing them if it is an emergency, or budget time or performance evaluation time. How can you evaluate someone you aren’t communicating with throughout the year? Some leaders are using the style they learned growing up, or in college, or the style learned from a previous "boss" is the style they are using today even though they said, “when I become a boss I will be different.” This may or may not be an effective style, and most likely at the very least needs to be sharpened.
Communication and communicating effectively is a tool that must be developed and sharpened. You can’t go into every week and every meeting using the same worn-out tools and expecting different results.
Abe Lincoln said if he had eight hours to chop down a tree he would use the first six sharpening his ax. He understood the principle of growth and unwavering discipline to get better and not rely on old dull tools of doing a job.
Let go of the insanity
If you are coming out of your meetings and hoping something different happens, but you didn’t do anything differently than you have the last year then don’t expect your followers to respond differently than they have for the last year.
I love reading, although I never read a complete book in high school or college. Somehow I made it through both, but those places of education just weren’t really where I learned. I didn't really have the desire or the unwavering discipline to read the books that were required. I regret some of that today...but not entirely. I mean I still haven't figured out how to solve for "x" when I don't know why there is a letter in math in the first place. But I digress.
I have found a love for reading over the last 20 years and have read hundreds of books on the subjects of leadership, communication, and human potential. I have an unwavering discipline now to read daily and continue to learn because the more I learn, the more I realize I need to keep learning.
In his book, Kevin shares the term pathfinder and describes a leader as a pathfinder. He says leaders find the path, they find the way. He says they read the signs and clues. Leaders see the way and show the way.
Intellectually this sounds easy. And maybe as you read this you are saying “yep that is what leaders do,” but practically you have to ask yourself am I doing this.
Here is a clue
I have worked with hundreds of leaders in my coaching and training practice. I have interviewed thousands of leaders and taken thousands of references on leaders. I hate to share this, but many leaders don't follow the advice of the pathfinder in their actions. It is not that they don't have good intentions, but maybe like you, they get busy and start letting things lead them instead of leading all aspects of their life and team. They don’t sharpen the tool of communication. What about you?
Leading at a high-level takes an unbelievable amount of discipline. Communicating effectively with your team takes unwavering discipline. You must see the signs and lead the way.
I love Bill Engvall who is known as one of the blue-collar comedy guys. He's famous for his skits that say "here's your sign." Signifying he is pointing out the obvious but, often overlooked.
Here is your sign. You must see it!
We are in an epidemic in America when it comes to leadership. Employee engagement is at an all-time low. The number one driver of engagement is leadership and effective communication from leaders.
Don’t be a politician
Just look at our current presidential election and the candidates we have to choose from in this 2020 race. Both nominees are horrendous communicators. Depending on which news program you watch, one is described as a loud-mouth name-caller who pushes many away with his message, and the other is referred to as a liar who can't be trusted because we never know if he is telling the truth or not. Both poor communicators with the tools in the box, but not skilled at using them effectively.
As a leader, you have to have an unwavering discipline to get better as a communicator. Politicians are great examples of what NOT to do in communicating with others, because they really are only reaching those who believe the same rhetoric. They really aren’t changing hearts and minds.
Touch the heart
Leadership is about changing hearts and minds. Leadership is about influencing others to do something they might not have done without your leadership. Leadership is about hope for something better than I can see today, but you see it as a leader and then inspire me to take action in that direction.
The only way you can inspire others is to learn to communicate effectively and practice new skills. Quit pulling out a hammer when what you need is a paintbrush to paint a new story or big vision that inspires others to do something different than they are doing in their own comfort zones.
10 ways to sharpen the greatest tool you have in your leadership toolbox:
Now What? Realize that you can and should get better if you are struggling to communicate with others. Follow the advice of Jim Rohn “If you just communicate, you can get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles." Apply the 10 steps above and use unwavering discipline to get better.
Anything worth doing is hard work. But in the words of my mentor Les Brown, “if you do what is easy, life will be hard, but if you do what is hard, life will be easy.”