Great leaders understand that their words are among their most powerful tools.
They're how you communicate your organization's values, and they're the messages your team remembers when they make choices on your behalf. So, as a leader you should think deliberately about the words that roll off your tongue every day, every week, and even on a monthly basis.
Here's a personal example. One of the top editors here at Inc. sends an email report to me and the other columnists each month, in which she explains priorities, shares which columns have done well, and discusses what readers are responding to.
I'm always psyched to learn from this message which of my columns are among the best-read on the site (for example--shameless plug -- this one, this one, and this one), but just as important, having that information empowers me to do a better job as a writer.
These same kinds of monthly messages can empower your team as well. With that in mind, here are 10 things you should be sure to say every month to make sure your team is on-target and performing well. I have six messages for your entire team, and four for individual or small group conversations.
1. This is our mission to Mars.
Without a compelling mission, there's not much point in assembling a team and trying to achieve something. So, each month you want to do either one of two things. You either want to remind everyone of how awesome your overall goal is, or you want to reassess that goal and find a better one. Whichever you choose, you want to articulate it with enough clarity that everyone on your team can do so too, quickly and enthusiastically.
2. Here's the data.
Great leaders work hard to ensure team members understand the overall picture, as well as how their individual roles contribute to it. Often, that becomes most clear with hard data. You want to inundate people with numbers (especially if they're not numbers-oriented people). However, to tell a clearer and more important story than words alone, offer quantitative feedback. As a rule, if you have the metrics and they shed light for your team on how they're stacking up, share it.
3. Here are our priorities.
After you have articulated a worthy goal, you need a worthwhile, effective, measurable strategy in order to get there. Then, working backward from that strategy, you should be able to identify a handful (at most) of organization-wide priorities. It becomes clear that it is crucial to ensure that everyone on your team understands them. You don't want talented team members spending valuable time on things that are outside of your priorities, even if they're otherwise beneficial. So, much like articulating the overall goal, explain the priorities quickly, clearly and enthusiastically.
4. Here's what we've learned.
Ironically, as a leader I've had to learn this lesson (about sharing lessons) the hard way. You can't simply present the goal, the metrics and the strategy, and expect others to conclude the best way to act as a result. You have to make the connections for them--at least offering broad strokes. Remember, you've ideally spent hours thinking about these questions and preparing your messages. It's a big part of your job as a leader. The members of your team, however, simply don't have as much time to process these monthly lessons as you do.
I advocate offering sincere congratulations all the time, and therefore being on the lookout for things worth offering congratulations for. At a monthly meeting or in a monthly presentation, however, less is more. Instead of focusing on every team member's milestone, pick one or two people who have truly noteworthy things to celebrate, and spend a little more time on them. Make it a big deal to be recognized in this manner, and focus on the achievements that emphasize your priorities, and how better to achieve them.
6. What are your questions?
There is no such thing as truly effective one-way communication. Whether you're giving a speech, or leading a big meeting, or sending a monthly report, you want to encourage give-and-take. You also want to ensure your message is getting through, and sometimes the best way to do that is by encouraging questions. Remember as well that people are often reticent to be the first to ask, so it can make sense to ensure you have someone ready and willing to ask something short and useful. (If you're providing your report via email, you might follow up a few days later with some of the best questions you've heard and your answers to them--both to share the answers and encourage more good questions.)
7. What do you need?
The last four phrases and questions on this list are things that are probably best used either one-on-one or in small groups. For example, as a leader, your job isn't to micromanage everyone's role; it's to ensure that they can perform effectively. Part of doing that is ensuring they have what they need in order to succeed. It's up to you to be proactive and find out what they need in order to do so. You don't want to learn that the reason why Johnny couldn't finish his part of the project on time was that he was missing a key element--all because you didn't ask him what he needed.
8. What do you want?
Some leaders can't tell a team's discontent from disloyalty. (If you want to read an illuminating story about a leader who took this to extremes, read this interview Michael Bloomberg gave Inc. magazine in 1998.) However, wouldn't you prefer that people who don't truly want to be on your team find a better fit elsewhere? Asking people what they truly want (and why) can help you identify those who would rather be doing something else. Don't just cut them loose if you can manage; help put them on the road to achieving their true goals, even if that means helping them to join another organization.
9. How much should we pay?
There are some people you truly can't or wouldn't want to do without. These are the top performers who truly want to remain part of your team, and who provide more value than they take. So, do what you can to ensure that they'll stick around, in part by reviewing their compensation and making sure you're paying them enough--even outside of your normal cycles. Even a relatively modest increase in their compensation can engender goodwill and encourage their loyalty.
10. What are we spending?
It's easy on the other hand to let costs get out of control if you don't pay enough attention. So, every month, make it a goal to identify and eliminate at least one unnecessary expense. Are there recurring bills that you've failed to notice? Are team members spending money on outdated technologies or processes? This is a good time to take a look--and maybe find a way to fund the extra pay you might dedicate to a valued team member.
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