Leadership Unlimited is a career column by Terry Wall, MBA '97. Terry is a recognized expert on strategy, leadership, and productivity, who will share his experiences and tips each month.
Alumni are encouraged to send comments, questions or suggestions for future column topics to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At first, my colleague's statement sounds simplistic. Yet it reflects a powerful perspective on solving organizational problems. We were discussing problems you find in many organizations-low productivity, poor quality, high turnover. And then, my colleague said:
"If you improve trust and communication in an organization, most other problems take care of themselves."
You probably already know that I believe trust is the foundation of leadership, of an effective team, of a responsibility-based culture, of a profitable organization. As I've said before, if people don't trust you as a leader, they won't work as hard, they won't be as engaged in their work.
I've also said that I believe communication is essential in a team or organization, or in any relationship for that matter. We must communicate if we want to be effective leaders.
So my colleague had hit upon two concepts that I consider very important. But what I want to explore now is the RELATIONSHIP between trust and communication. They go together because if you improve trust, you automatically improve communication. Let's look at why this is so.
As you may know from my work helping organizations create a responsibility-based culture, I believe that trust is comprised of five elements: consistency, listening/flexibility, purpose, performance accountability, and respect.
Here, I'll focus on listening/flexibility and consistency.
If I'm flexible, I'm receptive to opposing opinions, to new ideas, new ways of doing things. Because I'm flexible, and willing to give those ideas a fair hearing, I don't dismiss those opinions or ideas outright. I LISTEN to them.
If I'm flexible and receptive, and communicate to you that I'm listening, and really interested in your ideas, you're more likely to feel comfortable in expressing your ideas, and more important, your true feelings about a particular issue-information I need to make sound decisions.
One aspect of consistency is being consistent with what others expect of me as a leader. Others expect that I don't have hidden agendas, that I express my true feelings about an issue, that I explain my intent for doing something or for requesting information from you. It also means that I share information freely. It's what others expect of a leader.
Notice how "sharing information freely" is different from a lot of organizations, where leaders hoard information as if they were playing Texas Hold 'Em.
But the workplace isn't a poker game, even though some organizations operate by the misguided belief that "information is power," that the more information you keep, the more powerful you are.
Actually, the opposite is true: You have a greater, more positive impact on people, and on productivity and profitability, by sharing information freely.
How do these concepts of listening/flexibility and consistency, affect communication? First, consistency requires me to communicate this information in some way. It means that I as a leader must communicate, so that you have the information you need to do your job.
Second, by demonstrating flexibility and consistency, and sharing information, I'm encouraging you, as an individual, to exhibit the same behaviors. When you see that my expectations of you are clear, that you can give me honest feedback without the fear of retaliation or ridicule, you're more likely to communicate openly with me.
And if others see this behavior in us, they are bound to be more open as well; they'll be more likely to show flexibility and consistency in being open to new ideas and differing opinions, more likely to disclose their feelings, motives, and aspirations.
So, more trust, especially when it comes to listening/flexibility and consistency, will automatically promote more, and better, communication.
OK, maybe it won't solve all problems. You'll still have the malcontents who are never around when you need them to do something, but otherwise seem always to be at the water cooler.
But more trust and better communication make most other problems just a little easier to solve. I'm sure my colleague would agree.
Terry Wall, MBA '97, accelerates success for individuals and organizations. For individuals, he accelerates success through coaching. For organizations, he accelerates success by building winning teams, working with management teams in groups. Either way, Terry teaches people how to improve how they manage and lead, so that they and their direct reports are more engaged in their work, more committed to organizational goals, and more productive in what they do.
That accelerates success. That improves profitability.
Terry specializes in strategic planning, leadership development, change management, corporate culture, and productivity improvement. He works in a wide range of industries, including service and manufacturing, non-profit, and large and small organizations. He is a skilled facilitator who provides coaching on individual, executive, or team levels.
A recognized expert on strategy, leadership, and productivity, Terry has a B.A. in psychology from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, and an MBA from Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is a professional speaker, and a professional writer who coauthored a book on teambuilding, and has been published in many publications.
Terry Wall accelerates success, and improves profitability, for individuals, teams, and organizations.
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