In the last blog titled, One Step at a Time, I discussed leadership and communication in these changing times. For context here are some key points!

• When the future is unknown, “The leader must LEAD.”
• Even when the leader experiences uncertainty, they must step up. This is challenging, especially when the leader does not know what is ahead, but it is part of the role.
• The role of the leader is to provide direction, insight, and clearly outline the goals with expected results. You must prioritize and provide the next steps with credibility and patience.
• The leader must know when to stop giving step-by-step instruction to empower their team. This is the distinction between clarity and micromanagement.

The leader must head toward uncharted water with the hope that they are moving forward into calm seas versus crashing waves or a tumultuous storm. The team depends on the leader and believes that they possess the navigational wisdom to guide them forward.

If the leader is clear, authentic, and vulnerable in their communication the team will trust, and micromanagement is not necessary. One of the biggest challenges for the leader, is knowing if the message delivered has been received, and when to turn the wheel over to the team or yell “May Day!”

When you are with an employee in person, it is much easier to observe body language and understand whether the employee has heard your message. If the employee starts to veer off course, you can quickly sit down and refocus without losing much time or energy.

With our current environment, the employee may be working remotely, and you are communicating through video, email, or a telephone call. To be effective, the leader must be aware to consider the amount of interference that is vying for the employee’s attention and draining their energy. After hours of video meetings, emails, telephone calls, household interference, home schooling, and barking dogs, anyone’s mind gets fuzzy, and people get stressed. The employee may have a difficult time remembering the charted course and desired destination, and you may be wondering do they “get it?”

When the answer to that question is not clear, the tendency is to repeat-repeat-repeat, get frustrated, and act parental. Here are some scenarios, see if they sound familiar.

Repeat-repeat-repeat, perhaps the employee did not hear you the first time? Have you ever visited a foreign country and tried to ask for directions? You speak English and the other person speaks French. You want to know how to find a street, restaurant, or museum. You ask a question and they do not understand you, so you repeat-repeat-repeat, and each time get louder and more animated. You may believe that saying it again and again with more force and effort will get through to them, but they do not understand you. The result is frustration for the sender and the receiver. This situation may sound familiar, as it occurs when the leader or employee are speaking to each other with little success. One or both may be distracted, have too much on their plate, or not understand the method or desired goal. The conversation may lead to frustration and opinions about performance and/or leadership.
Direct, micro-manage, and “should” all over people. I experienced this during a recent call while speaking with a colleague. I was discussing a new venture and sharing ideas. The person I was speaking to “shoulded” me seven times during the conversation. They said, “You should do this. You should do that. You should, you should, you should….” I started to checkout at “should #3,” got frustrated at “should #6,” and was man overboard at “should #7.” The interaction felt parental and controlling, as though I was not capable of steering my own ship. I am certain that was not the intent, but their wisdom was lost in their method of sharing.

Overtime, these behaviors erode a relationship. What can the leader do as an alternative to guide, mid-course correct, and move forward? Here are some tips:

• When delegating or laying out a plan, communicate the big picture, goal, and anticipated results. This is also the time to canvass your employees for their input as they are the ones “manning the oars” to keep the boat moving forward. This interaction ensures the leader and employee are heading toward the same destination.
• Once you have communicated the destination, identify landmarks along the way. These landmarks can be communicated verbally, in writing, or preferably, through both channels. Provide one or two steps and ensure that the employee understands what is to be accomplished before you move on. Imagine a map for communication and achievable goals, one small turn or landmark at a time.
• Once you have delivered one or two steps, ask the employee to share his/her understanding of what is expected and what they are supposed to do? The leader can ask, “What are the next steps you are going to take?” Let’s say the leader asked, “Do you understand what I said?” The employee will frequently say “Yes” even if the answer is “No, or I think so.” Is this communication strategy time consuming? Perhaps! Will it avoid wasted time and misunderstanding in the future? Yes! Once you get through the first few steps, you can repeat this sequence as you move toward the anticipated goal.
• Here is an alternative to “should!” When you feel the word starting to form in your brain or come out of your mouth….STOP. You have an alternative that can elicit conversation and achieve a positive response. Instead ask, “May I offer a suggestion?” or, “May I offer an insight?” You may be thinking, is this the same thing as “shoulding” on someone? NO! The receiver now has a choice! They can say yes or no, and choose if they want to hear the suggestion or insight. They are now prepared for that course correction. This technique indicates that the leader is listening, cares, respects the employee, and ultimately enhances the relationship.
• Acknowledge and celebrate landmarks along the way! It can be lonely sailing to a destination without the day-to-day interaction of your team and crew. Look for opportunities to get the team together in a video chat or telephone call, and identify key learnings to celebrate movement towards the goal.

Remember, you are in the boat leading your team into waters that may be smooth or feel like a hurricane; you are the rudder and must be the calm in the storm.

Anyone can steer a ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere. John Maxwell