Leadership muscles are no different than body muscles and like your body, you need to exercise and build your leadership muscles to perform at your best. And like a great workout, you must break down those muscles before they can rebuild stronger than before. Want to be a great leader? Proactively identify exercises that build your leadership muscles.

Early in my career as I first began to lead teams, I typically would take the more traditional or safe route. If you are inside a large organization they actually brainwash you into forming this strategy. Play along, don't make waves, fill out your annual employee reviews without ruffling feathers; you get the idea. This is not leadership--you are just a caretaker. Caretakers maintain, caretakers don't grow, innovate or inspire.

Appropriate, clear, and targeted communication is the hallmark of a great leader. But what is clear or appropriate or targeted?

What types of information should you communicate as an effective leader? There are obvious items such as financial performance (revenue, cost or profit goals) or funding milestones. These messages are appropriate for more of your team than you might think. Want to arm an employee for maximum productivity? Bring them into your head and share with them what keeps you up at night.

I have a communication style that uses my personal experiences to connect with my team members. I share what is working for me and what I am struggling with. I don't support leadership styles that hide our challenges with the intent of "showing good face".

Your appropriate communication muscle is ultimately tested by the engagement with your team. If people leave your team--something is wrong. But what can you do before that happens? I suggest offsite one-on-ones (lunch or beer or coffee) where the conversation centers on what they need to be more successful. Try it--you might be surprised what you find out.

Clear communication is precise. Less is more. Too many emerging leader talk-tracks say 3x more than what needs to be said. Others view communication as a bull-horn where the thought is message loudly over and over, and everyone will get it. This feels very Stalinesque. Like great marketing, crisp messaging that is easily consumed by your team wins out every time. My approach--the rule of 3 (never more than 3 items to be communicated).

Ready to break down the muscle and rebuild? Follow these 3 steps.

1. Deliver your message.

2. Solicit feedback from the listeners.

3. Ask them to repeat the message back to you or ask them what they will do differently now that your new message has been shared.

Your effectiveness should be obvious in their answers.

I know what you are thinking. You read target as in certain team members or groups get different messages than others. The marketing team messaging is focused on the marketing team and the product team message for developers, etc.

Wrong!

When I first became a venture capitalist in the late 90's, I met with hundreds of companies and the one pattern I observed was the divide between product builders and product sellers. No respect for each other and/or minimal communication between the teams equaled unsuccessful company. Later when I built randmcnally.com from scratch (post MapQuest) I set a framework for communication leadership. Everyone heard the same message delivered at the same time. I also held weekly meetings with my 5 direct reports with one agenda item--what are we communicating between them and me and them and their direct reports. How were we doing on the 3 messages?

Your leadership muscles need a workout just like your body. Inventory the strength of those muscles and develop ways to stretch those muscles to levels stronger than they are today.

Published on: Mar 12, 2015