Let me echo that massive study: We are in an era with an alarming leadership shortage. As more Boomers retire and Millennials continue to increase in numbers as the largest working generation, today's companies just aren't prepared to develop tomorrow's leaders.
Don't hit the panic button just yet, but I did want to raise your left eyebrow. If you're serious about leveraging leadership strength to grow your business (and you should be), then, plain and simple, develop your employees with high potential and the right people skills to move into leadership roles.
This is the gateway to culture change, and it starts with decision makers at the top of the food chain committing top-dollar annual budgeting to implement a great, and long-term, leadership development strategy.
Great leadership communication in practice looks like this
One undeniable hallmark of strong leadership that I've been preaching, teaching, training, and coaching for years is part of its foundation: communication, communication, communication.
In this day and age of corporate scandals and controversies, communication matters. How leaders communicate with and to others--the type that translates to business results--is not rocket science, but it's no cakewalk either. What I mean is, communication can be multifaceted, situational, and require a lot of emotional courage.
All concepts of communication I'm about to demonstrate are learned traits, no matter who you are. For this conversation, I'm going to simplify the practice of great leadership communication into five principles.
1. Communicate in "we" rather than "I" or "you" language.
As a leader, you may not be consciously aware of the role language plays. It can build up or tear down your tribe. There are things you may choose to say that will either empower or disempower.
There are certain "I" or "you" statements you want to avoid, as they may come across as critical or bossy, as if employees are there to serve you and your needs, instead of the reverse. (If servant leadership is a new business concept for you, start here.)
For example, "I want this done like this" or "I need you to make this happen for me" are good examples of "me first" or "I" lingo. Negative "you" lingo that is deemed as critical or judgmental may sound like this: "You didn't keep your promise" or "You showed incompetence in that meeting."
On the flip side, "we" language implies that the challenge or problem is the concern and responsibility of both speaker and listener. It suggests inclusion, immediacy, cohesiveness, and commitment. Example: "We need to figure out a system that works more efficiently."
"We" language is especially crucial for bringing a team under crisis together, not to mention winning the trust of your customers.
Samsung CEO Gregory Lee did just that by using first-person "we" language in his apology letter that claimed responsibility and offered solutions after several cases of exploding Galaxy Note7 smartphones. Case in point:
"We take seriously our responsibility to address concerns about safety and quality ... "
"... we have already initiated investigations with independent third party experts to carefully revisit every aspect of the device, including the battery, hardware and software, and manufacturing processes. Once available, we will transparently share our findings ... "
"We will invest to better serve your needs through enhanced customer care and quality assurance."
" ... we are truly sorry, and grateful for your ongoing support. We will listen to you, learn from this, and act in a way that allows us to win back your trust."
According to one communications consulting firm, Lee's transparency made his letter 24 percent more trustworthy than the average crisis communication. When the leader is accountable, doesn't beat around the bush, and promises to do better, this speaks volumes to a team under fire.
2. Communicate with radical honesty.
Wisconsin-based Johnsonville Sausage, the number-one brand of sausages nationwide, has exploded in recent years. However, keeping up with global expansion put new pressure on Johnsonville's team-oriented corporate culture.
When assessing leadership areas for improvement, Johnsonville discovered an all-around need for better communication and interpersonal skills that had bottom-line impact.
The company's HR team put together a Crucial Conversations training rooted in radical honesty to step up and handle high-stakes issues to improve companywide results.
Results were dramatic. Teams reported better synergy and unity, and team members found new ways to help one another. The sales team used what they had learned to drastically improve interactions with customers.
3. Communicate with the aim of developing trust first.
Nowadays, leaders can't rely on positional authority alone to get things done. Work environments today are flatter, decentralized, dispersed, and virtual. How can leaders motivate talent to develop product and keep customers happy?
The secret is trust.
When leaders operate from trust, they get their people from the neck up. Employees see them as dependable and accountable for their actions. People feel safe in their presence, and they gain influence.
"Leaders can no longer trust in power; instead they rely on the power of trust." --Charles Green, Forbes magazine
SAS Institute, one of Fortune magazine's Best Companies to Work For 19 years in a row, arrived there by developing a culture based on "trust between our employees and the company," said Jim Goodnight, SAS's CEO.
In his phenomenal book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey says that a team with high trust will produce results faster and at lower cost. But should you first earn the trust of your people? Or does trust develop from having a belief in your people first--their strengths, abilities, and commitment?
In other words, which of these two statements would you agree with?
A. Trust is something that people must earn.
B. Trust is something that should be given as a gift.
If you chose A, you're in the majority. Conventional thinking says that people have to earn trust first. If they violate that trust, it becomes difficult to earn it back, right? But if you selected B, pat yourself on the back. It has been found that, in healthy organizations, leaders are willing to give trust to their followers first, as a gift before it's earned.
4. Communicate through regular praise and recognition.
Did you know that receiving recognition is the most important performance motivator? It's a powerful way to get employees motivated.
Sure, paychecks, bonuses, and cash incentives are good, but that money will be spent tomorrow. But being recognized in front of the organization for the hard work you've put in? That's gold, because everyone can then see the value that you're bringing.
In one large Gallup study, the companies that displayed the highest engagement levels used recognition and praise as powerful motivators to get employee commitment and loyalty.
Those who receive it regularly increase their individual productivity, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and are more likely to stay with their organization.
How regularly are we talking? Praise should be given once per week.
5. Communicate the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Lets face it. We all go through the up-and-down cycles of business. When something disruptive happens and your business takes a hit, or a sudden change in direction takes place that will affect workers, or major fires need to be put out, paint a positive and realistic picture of business life to keep your people steady, rather than a doomsday scenario that triggers panic and uncertainty.
Don't keep these conversations secret or behind closed doors in exclusive C-level meetings that leave people on the outside walking on eggshells.
Companies with leaders who "sweep things under the rug" will eventually be exposed as not trustworthy. The flip side is transparent and truth-telling leaders who explain current realities and bring everyone into the conversation for unity. Such leaders win the hearts and minds of employees.
As you put your 90-day plan of action together to start off the year with a bang, remember this: Great communication will be action-oriented and reflect your core values as an organization or business. That's your starting point. In strong leadership cultures, words on a plaque in a hallway or conference room are living, breathing symbols acted out daily in individual, team, and systemic behaviors. This is what we call "walking the talk."