Communicate Like a Leader
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Communicate Like a Leader

Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

Dianna Booher, John Britt, Ed Jent

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Communicate Like a Leader

Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

Dianna Booher, John Britt, Ed Jent

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About This Book

Draw Them In, Don't Drive Them Away!
People often get promoted to leadership positions without knowing how to communicate an inspiring strategic vision to the people who report to them. So they focus on what they know: tactics, not strategy. As a result, they become stuck in micromanagement mode. Dianna Booher wants to prevent micromanagement before it happens by providing you with the right leadership communication skills. Grounded in extensive research, this book offers practical guidelines to help professionals think, coach, converse, speak, write, meet, and negotiate strategically to deliver results. In thirty-six brief chapters, Booher shows you how to communicate effectively to audiences up and down the organization so you can fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader.

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The Challenge of Leadership Communication

Without strategy, execution is aimless.
Without execution, strategy is useless.

Just what you don’t want to find in your inbox on a Monday morning: A resignation letter from an excellent employee. No reason given and no mention of another job offer. I called Rachel in to ask for an explanation.
“I just can’t take it anymore.” She started to tear up.
“Take what?” I asked. She worked in another wing of our building, and I was indeed clueless about why the marketing specialist was so unhappy in her job.
“I just can’t work for him anymore.” I did at least know the “him” she reported to as her supervisor. “I get a big knot in my stomach every morning before I come to work. Really physically sick. My husband has been trying to get me to resign for months. July has been terrible. Wally hasn’t spoken to me all month. Walks right past my desk every morning. Goes to lunch right past my desk every day. Doesn’t say a word.”
“I’m sorry to hear this.”
“He’s always angry about something he thinks I didn’t do right. I never know exactly what. He just completely ignores me.”
“How do you know he’s angry at you?”
“Because when he is speaking, he’s cross-examining me. He doesn’t trust me. Every time I leave my desk for fifteen minutes, when I get back, it’s, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Why did that take so long?’ And after I hang up the phone, it’s, ‘Who was that?’ ‘What did you tell them?’ I’ve never given him any reason not to trust me. He’s just always looking over my shoulder, double-checking everything. And I learned to handle the client calls from listening to him!” She started to tear up again.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea this was happening.”
Rachel had been a quick learner, picking up pointers from all our star performers in and out of the office. Consequently, she’d been able to take on more responsibility than her original job entailed.
“One day he’s talking to me about his family, and my family, movies—like we’re best friends. And the next day, he’s treating me like I can’t be trusted.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“A year.”


“People don’t leave an organization; they leave a boss” has become a truism in the workplace for good reason. Emotional instability, for whatever reason, can infect the workplace and lower productivity as surely as malfunctioning equipment. Often, the person causing the retention problem has moved from buddy to bully without intending ill will. It just “happens.” That boss got promoted from supervisor to manager or from manager to senior executive without adequate leadership and communication skills for the job. As a result, the boss gets stuck in micromanagement mode.
If that person happens to be you, this book will help you get unstuck. These strategic communication skills, attitudes, and mindsets separate those
•  Professionals who succeed at the executive level from those who don’t
•  Star sales professionals breaking through barriers and exceeding quotas from those living paycheck to paycheck
•  Millennials tagged as “high-potentials” from those labeled average performers
•  Entrepreneurs who succeed wildly from those who barely eke out a living
The most visible difference in each of these situations is a person’s ability to communicate vision, initiatives, assignments, ideas, and strategy to audiences at all levels in various settings.


Strategic communication forms the very core of leadership. When you as a leader speak, meet, negotiate, write, or network, you either clarify or confuse, motivate or demoralize, engage or enrage employees. And they, in return, will either give 110 percent of their loyalty, support, and skill to accomplish your mission—or disengage, divert your focus, and drain your energy in dealing with them.
The dictionary defines strategic as “pivotal,” “essential,” or “relating to long-term importance to achieve a plan or goal.” That’s how I’ll be using “strategic” going forward in this book: those messages, meetings, conversations, discussions, or presentations that have pivotal, long-term payoff versus “routine” communication.
Back to Rachel’s situation. Fortunately, my company did get Rachel’s situation corrected by changing her reporting relationship and getting counseling for her supervisor, and she did stay with us. But similar problems occur daily in the workforce. Such situations become a crisis for all involved for these reasons:
•  Micromanaged employees work and live under undue stress that often leads to job loss—either by their choice or by termination.
•  Micromanagers become less and less productive under a heavier and heavier workload because they do their own regular job—and then take on the jobs of those they supervise.
•  Organizations lose some of their best employees and grow less productive and profitable because professionals who get promoted for their technical skills do not learn the strategic communication skills necessary to succeed in their new leadership role.
We’ll discuss several reasons for micromanagement and how to overcome it later in the book. But for now, my point is that fewer and fewer professionals arrive at their position with all the leadership communication skills they need to master the job.
In a recent Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92 percent said soft skills were equally or more important than technical skills. But 89 percent reported that they had a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with those attributes. And they say the problem spans all age groups and experience levels.1


As Cool Hand Luke famously said in the movie by the same name, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” To paraphrase his observation: What we have here is a failure to translate to the strategic message for groups at different levels in your organization.
For example, let’s say your daughter Jordan has won first place in the school district’s ninth-grade science fair, and you’re proud of her research for that innovative project. You tell the grandparents about the big win, and they’re thrilled as well. Assume you have a family reunion the following month with more than 100 cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws attending. Tell them about the same science project, and you’ll probably find them less interested than Jordan’s grandparents. After all, the aunts, uncles, and cousins have kids involved in science projects of their own.
Then let’s assume you have an industry meeting the next week, and you tell that group about Jordan’s science project. How interested will they be? And how interested will your seatmate on your cross-country flight be when you tell him about the science project? Unless you share a profound lesson learned about volunteerism or fund-raising success that applies to professional associations or to your seatmate’s company, your listener will probably care a great deal less than the grandparents.
The further removed the link to your child, the less the listener cares about your news—and the greater skill you’ll need to find a worthwhile idea to share from the science project. In other words, your ability to take an experience from one context and reapply it in a larger context to a different audience with wider interests represents strategic insight and communication.
We intuitively understand this need to translate in personal situations. But many leaders fail to “get it” in the workplace. In doing presentation coaching, I can’t tell you how often managers have told me about trying to give the same presentation to several different audiences and levels of management—and failing.


Whether you’re in marketing, sales, operations, finance, research, IT, legal, or human resources, tactical thinkers communicate directives to get things done. They decide who does what when. Unfortunately, the tactical things that get done may not always be the wisest things or the most profitable things with long-term payoff. Tactical thinking is critical—but common.
Still, strategic thinkers stand out from the crowd. Big-picture thinking uniquely positions you as the resource for focus, problem analysis, and innovation.
But strategic thinking puts points on the scoreboard only if you can communicate your thinking clearly. And the more respect your thinking earns—that is, the more visibility you get—the more often you’ll need to communicate your thinking up, down, and across the organization.
This book offers help as you think and communicate strategically to fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader. Its 36 brief chapters fall into six distinct categories—a suite of leadership communication skills.
•  People Development (hiring, firing, assigning, directing, coaching)
•  Conversations
•  Negotiations
•  Speaking
•  Writing
•  Meetings
Why leadership communication? Because communication comprises the essence of influencing a team to accomplish a mission. The book is NOT intended to be a comprehensive, all-purpose management or leadership book. Neither does this volume focus on general interpersonal skills. My earlier book Communicate With Confidence: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time contains more than 1,200 tips to improve interpersonal communication in myriad situations at work, home, and elsewhere.
Rather, this book focuses specifically on those relationships, situations, and decisions you face because of your position and responsibility as a leader. Recall that strategic refers to something essential or pivotal for the long term. In that sense, the degree to which you can communicate strategically in every interaction will determine your ultimate success with peers, staff, clients, suppliers, and your own executive team.
Tactical thinkers get things done. Strategic thinkers get the right things done. Tactical communicators tell others how to get things done. Strategic communicators lead others to get the right things done. They
—  Cast the vision, chart the course, and “go first” to lead the way and set the example
—  Communicate up and down the chain of command and across department lines to make sure all stakeholders understand the big-picture impact
—  Network strategically to connect and involve the right people for input and participation—and then negotiate for mutual benefit
—  Speak persuasively, write clearly, and conduct meetings that deliver results
Consequently, strategic thinkers and communicators typically end up in the executive ranks of large organizations or build their own entrepreneurial business. Whatever your plans, strategic communication will be the smoothest, most direct route to success.



Think Long-Term Investment in People and Payoff

Leadership is not a magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people,” that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.


Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.


The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.



Communicating as a Leader and as a Manager

The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.

When my client Mitch visited our office, he had both good news and bad news. “Let me give you the good news first. . . . A couple of partners and I just bought a telecom at a great price—basically a spin-off of the entire division I used to manage.”

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