Friday, February 20, 2015

Communication and Leadership

It was a quite Sunday morning. I was sitting in my favorite chair enjoying a cup of green tea along with the daily dose of newspaper humor when my phone rang. It was Asha. She sounded upset. I calmed her down and asked her the cause for her rage. I had known Asha for several years now. She was calm, collected and a smart person. Hence I was surprised to hear her tone on phone. 

She shared that her manager had called and he was agitated. It was about an email that she had sent a day before. Her second level supervisor, the CEO, had contacted Asha just when she was about to leave for the day. He had been trying to contact her manager but could not reach him. He wanted a status report urgently. Asha had promised to take her teenage son out  that evening. She grudgingly stayed back, updated the report and sent it to him with copy to her manager and  her colleague who had helped her to put together that report.

In her email she wrote, "as per our discussion this evening, please find attached the status report". Her manager had received a terse email from the CEO asking for his analysis. From her email the CEO assumed that the report was prepared solely by Asha. She had failed to mention the contributions of her manager and her colleague.

I asked her to meet me in the evening.

Image result for communication images free download

I met her that evening. She asked if she could have done anything better. Instead of answering her closed ended question I explored the situation with her in more detail. Here are four specific questions that we discussed:

1. What is the purpose of the communication?
2. Who are the target audience?
3. Who are the other stakeholders? and,
4. What is the preferred communication culture in the organization?

In the situation described above Asha knew what the CEO wanted and she did well by including all the target audience and the stakeholders in the address field, however she failed to appreciate the communication culture in the organization. The CEO preferred that only his direct reports write to him. She had not followed that unwritten rule.

With practice she started developing the habit of asking these questions before any communication. Whenever she would not have answers to these she would go back and seek clarification. This one change moved her closer to becoming better at the Art and Science of Leadership.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Listening and Leadership

There is a reason why we have two ears but only one mouth. It was not until I had made one of my worst career mistakes that I became aware of this.

I had just been assigned the role of the head of the newly built technology center in India. In my earnest desire to earn my salary through hard work and contribution I started pushing my team. Equipped with a fast-firing supercomputer brain, or so I thought, I would complete people's sentences before they had a chance to air their views and opinions. Sometimes I will notice a flash of disapproval on their face but I would dismiss it without giving it a second thought till one day my boss delivered the feedback. Change or else... Well not exactly in those words but it meant same none the less. I had no clue what I was doing wrong.

I never thought that I was alienating my own team by my lack of listening abilities. My inability to keep quite and listen to other ideas became my biggest stumbling block.

As soon as one of my colleagues will come with a problem I had ready solutions. I would immediately jump in and offer solutions without even understanding that he only wanted to share the solution that she had come up with.

My Aha! moment came when one of my colleagues explicitly asked me if he could complete was he was saying. He needed some space and once I gave him that, things changed. Not surprisingly, he was willing to listen to my ideas with open mind after I made a sincere effort to hear his thoughts. I had read Steven Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" long time back but had never experienced firsthand the power of the fourth habit "Seek first to understand and then to be understood". It was a defining moment for me.

What I learnt from this  experience and my reading on the subject is that we have a strong urge to make contribution and are afraid that by the time our turn come our ideas would have been already expressed by someone else and we may not have anything new to say. Trust yourself. You will deliver the goods when its your turn.

Two techniques I learn't from executive coach Tom Henschel are Creating Silence and Resisting offering solutions too soon. Both these techniques allow another person the space to express himself. Continuing to explore the problem may reveal solutions that are better than the ones you had come up with initially and as a bonus helps you improve your relationships with other people.

This is my first weekly post and if you like it please share it with your friends. If you have any feedback about this post or a Leadership topic on which you would like me to write about in future please leave your comment on the blog or write to me directly on