Opinion research shows that public confidence in business and political leaders is middling to very poor.
For example, a Gallup poll (December 2012) found that only 21 percent of Americans rated business leaders as very high in terms of honesty and ethical behavior. Members of Congress fared even worse in the poll, coming in second from the bottom of 22 professions. Only used car salesmen rated lower. (Nurses came in first place.)
These findings are a pointed reminder that leaders need to act in ways that build trust and stakeholder engagement, not erode them.
To help raise the performance bar, here are five communication behaviors that leaders should use to supercharge their effectiveness in this success-critical domain. Some may seem obvious. However, in reality I find they often fall into the category of the “Invisible Obvious.”
Five-Point Leader Communication Checklist
- Say the TRUTH. This is the Prime Communication Directive. There is no room for spin, half-truths or multiple versions of the truth if a leader wants to gain and keep buy-in from employees, customers and other stakeholders. Reputation is a leader’s most precious asset. Once it’s compromised, winning back credibility and stakeholder trust is extremely difficult and sometimes downright impossible.
- Say THANK YOU. Expressing appreciation and recognition of others’ efforts and contributions is another key communication priority. This is an aspect of emotional intelligence — meaning the ability to identify and control emotions in oneself and others – that research shows differentiates great leaders from good leaders. Whether a leader is an elected official, a university president or a senior executive, showing sincere gratitude wins hearts as well as minds.
- Say WE, NOT I. This point is not new, but it bears repeating. It takes a community of dedicated people to deliver consistent winning results. Highly effective leaders don’t hog the limelight, but instead speak about the team, the community or the organization. They don’t talk “down” but rather inspire and motivate “up” by being other-focused, not self-focused.
- Say TELL ME MORE. Successful leaders are inquisitive. They are constantly on the lookout for information that will give them a competitive edge. They want to hear good news, but – even more – they want to drill deep when receiving bad news or differing opinions. In this way, they create a culture of healthy discussion, high-quality decision making and innovation.
- Say NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT. Leaders are the final arbiters of their organization’s values and reputation. They should have only one response to suggestions or actions that violate — or appear to violate – those values or general business ethics.
A key point I make to current and aspiring leaders is this: People have to buy into you before they will buy from you. Incorporating these five behaviors and phrases into everyday actions sets a positive “tone at the top” and strengthens engagement and organizational performance overall. Use them consistently to execute brilliantly.