Most people recognize a poor leader’s communication missteps: Unresponsiveness. Sarcasm. Angry outbursts. Lack of feedback. Little or no opportunity for input. Micromanaging rather than delegating.
Competent leaders, on the other hand, share common communication habits—particularly, their preferences in what they want to hear from employees.
Strong leaders are always open to innovation: New processes. Cost-savings. Better customer service. Ideal partnerships. Rather than complain about how things are, look for ways to improve the situation and pass them on.
Never surprise your boss about a project that’s in trouble—one that will miss a deadline, exceed projected cost, or even fail. That doesn’t mean you go running to the boss with your hat in your hand at every little glitch. But it does mean that you exercise good judgment about when to sound a warning in time to turn the situation around. With notice, your boss can often help you prevent disaster.
Bad-mouthing your boss behind his or her back always makes you look like the rotten apple. What’s more, such comments eventually work their way back to the boss. A leader needs to feel comfortable that you’re loyal. Sycophancy is not the name of the game. We’re not talking about yes-people. Real leaders welcome disagreement and honest feedback.
But they need to know that your feedback comes directly to them rather than others, because you have their best interest at heart.
Strong leaders hold themselves accountable, and expect their team to do the same. So when you make a mistake, own it. Say so. If you learned from that mistake, add that as well. Real leaders respect authenticity and honesty.
Leaders are excellent at managing people and relationships—but they’re not mind readers. If you don’t have what you need to do your job well, don’t use that as an excuse to do less than your best. Rather than hint or imply, ask for what you need directly.
Space? Access to research? Equipment? More staff? Budget increase? That’s not to say that your every wish will be your boss’s command. It does mean that a direct request opens dialogue that leads to a direct answer.
No one—not even the very best leader—cares as much about your career as you do. At every turn, leaders today read and hear that their team wants feedback, coaching, and mentoring for career development. So they consider it part of their responsibilities to help you develop your skills. The issue is simply time and opportunity.
That’s where you come in. Communicate your career goals to your boss and keep him or her updated if those goals change. Then create opportunities during the normal workflow to get coaching. Ask if you can sit in on a call to a key client. As you walk toward the cafeteria, ask the reasoning behind X decision. Take two minutes after a meeting to ask for feedback on your presentation. You get the idea.
Your boss wants to coach you, but you need to create the spontaneous opportunities.
If you intend to build a rewarding relationship with your boss, let him or her HEAR from you in all these ways.
Learn more ways to communicate with leadership in Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader.