In her 27 years working with executives at all levels in organizations, coaching expert Madeleine Blanchard has seen it all in terms of bad communication habits that prevent leaders from having the types of conversations that bring out the best in people.
“We’ve worked with more than 15,000 leaders since we opened the Coaching Services division back in 2000. Much of our work deals with helping people first understand the impact of their natural tendencies and habits and then sharpen their communication skills.”
In a recent interview for the November issue of Ignite, Blanchard recommends three basics as a starting point for leaders looking to improve—goal setting, listening, and feedback.
“Most leaders aren’t as good at setting goals as they think they are. It seems so obvious and simple, but it actually takes a lot of imagination and creative brain power. Leaders often think direct reports should already know what they need to do and should be able to set their own goals, but unless people are taught how to do it and given some solid support, it just doesn’t happen. Very few people have their goals written down and chunked into deliverables, with specific timelines.”
Listening is another area where leaders fall short, in Blanchard’s experience.
“Many leaders think that the most senior person should do most of the talking, when it really is the other way around. When employees are free to express themselves they ultimately learn more, become more innovative, and get better at problem solving. I have a big red stop sign in my office with the word WAIT printed on it in big letters—it stands for Why Am I Talking?” Because when I am talking, I am not listening—and as a coach and a leader, listening is what I need to be doing.
Feedback is a continual trouble spot for leaders. Blanchard recommends that leaders ask themselves a key question before deciding to address the issue.
“Try this. Before providing feedback on performance, ask yourself this question: Am I delivering this feedback because it is something my direct report needs to hear—or is this just something I feel I need to say? If it is something you feel you need to say because you have a strong opinion or because you just want to vent, do it—but not with your direct report. Share it with your own boss or with your coach, spouse, or therapist. It’s your issue—not your employee’s.”
Blanchard cautions that this doesn’t mean leaders should be talking about an employee’s issue with others. She makes it clear that feedback on performance needs to be delivered directly to the person involved.
“I am very upfront with my people. I promise that any feedback I have for them will be shared only with them. That’s a fundamental coaching ethic. I’m also clear that I expect the same in return. If they have an issue with me, I insist they discuss it directly with me. If either of us is discussing feedback issues with others, we are gossiping—and that is damaging to our relationship and to the organization.”
You can read more of Blanchard’s recommendations for leaders—including a final area that needs to be addressed—by accessing the complete November issue of Ignite.
PS: Also check out the complimentary webinar Blanchard is conducting to help leaders become more coach-like in their conversations with their people. The event is free, courtesy of Cisco WebEx and The Ken Blanchard Companies.