The essence of the art of leadership is to connect with your people. Some of the best leaders I have met have a unique ability to make an emotional connection with their employees. These leaders are very good at conveying that they understand what their teams think and feel before they have to explain it. This type of emotional connection creates a bridge for genuine dialogue and conversation.
At the same time, there are some leaders that are not only hard to like and follow, but they seem to have a knack for irking or alienating their people. Some of these leaders are not aware of the impact their words have. In other cases, they have become blind to the true impact of their words. When leaders struggle to draw in others, they are unlikely to build followership.
Here are six common, often well-intentioned, communication traits that create disaffection and disconnection, resulting in the opposite of what you actually want.
- Calling your people "people" One CEO who cared tremendously for his people had the habit of calling them just that: People. He would try to talk from the heart but when he started with, "People, here is what we need to do to truly serve our customer," you could sense the distance between him and his senior leaders expand, almost as if a thousand-foot sink hole opened between him and everyone else in the room. The idea is to reduce the space between yourself and others, not multiple it exponentially.
- Using big words you need a thesaurus to understand Having a rich vocabulary is a wonderful thing. When I was younger my favorite word to try and impress people with was "plethora." Then I realized people weren't impressed, nor did it inspire others to act. When you're trying to connect, it's not about the cleverness of the word that counts, but how well you simplify an idea. When you throw out words that most people either don't know or can't easily translate, you not only make them feel inferior, but you also can be sure that they will be clueless about what they should do different.
- Littering your speech with buzz words Weird Al Yankovic has several spoofs on corporate speak. He makes fun of the most obnoxious business buzz words that litter leadership speak. The words are contagious - seemingly out of nowhere everyone's talking about core competencies, synergy, thinking outside the box, client centric solutions and how to operationalize our strategy. It seems that these words get used to show we are in the know. But the question is: in the know about what? Corporate jargon - and overly elaborate buzz words - mostly strike people as annoying and confusing.
- Correcting others about minor things...especially in public You're a perfectionist and may even see yourself as the standard bearer to quality and excellence. However, the desire to set the standard can easily slide into "the way I would do it" and correcting people on minor things that irritate you but have little to do with getting the results we all want. While correcting someone to keep them from making a big mistake or embarrassing themselves is helpful, pointing out minor mistakes is alienating. Before you call out a mistake, think about the bigger picture. Does the flaw you've noticed really matter?
- Always needing to be right, and unwilling to show vulnerability Nobody likes a know-it-all. This is especially true for your employees. Just because you love to be right, or because you put immense pressure on yourself to have all, or the best answers, the impact on your team will be negative. A leader willing to be vulnerable, especially in public, inspires followership. When you say you don't' know, or ask for help, you inspire others to do the same and take the risks required for learning and growth.
- One-upmanship on stories of empathy In your effort to show empathy, be careful about bringing in your own experiences and putting yourself at the center of the story. Starting with what happened to you may not be the best approach. Empathy means that you identify with someone. While it's a good idea to commiserate by sharing, if you go into too much detail, it starts to feel that it's more about you than the others. When people are going through something rough, most of the time what they want is understanding and support, not one-upsmanship on tales of woe.
Connecting with your employees is no easy task. At one time, you were in their shoes looking at leadership with admiration or despair. Remember what you wanted to hear, how you wanted to hear it and how it made you feel. Connecting on an emotional level will help you build the strong bridges needed to succeed.