Leadership Development 101: Leading Through Effective Communication

by Sarah Greesonbach

ADP's Amy Leschke-Kahle and Rob Lewis explore how leaders today are leading through effective communication that is human, habitual and empathetic.

Is there anything more urgent in today's business world than the need for decisive leadership and leading through effective communication?

In the wake of all of the disruption of 2020, businesses across categories are struggling to manage all the change. Some are facing drastic losses and laying off or furloughing a large number of employees, and some are facing the opposite problem as they struggle to manage the new rapid demand for their products and services.

But no matter which situation an organization finds itself in, the need for effective leadership is always there. COVID-19 and civil unrest have created a dramatic shift in the way many leaders work with their teams, and this requires organizations everywhere to reexamine the definition of effective leadership.

In an effort to understand today's best practices for leading through effective communication, we connected with Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company (an ADP company), and Rob Lewis, Vice President of Talent Solutions at ADP. The conversation revealed three critical attributes of effective leadership.

1. Today's Leadership Is... Human

In an attempt to improve leadership development within an organization, well-intentioned leaders often overcomplicate the process. It's all too easy to want to create a program for everything, but effective leadership can be as simple as paying attention to employees. Leadership development that focuses on leaders talking to their team about the actual work quickly, frequently and with a light touch can go a long way to supporting and sustaining those employees.

"In the leadership development space, we can sometimes glom onto shiny object syndrome, where we're distracted by the one perfect way to do leadership," says Leschke-Kahle. "But the reality is there's no one perfect model for this. It's an individual thing, and it comes down to paying close attention to your team members and the people you work with. If you can say, 'I see you, I know you,' you're going to be an effective leader."

This is a mindset shift that must happen at the executive level in order to create a culture of attention and weave it into the fabric of the organization. And when habitualized leadership skills are developed that provide team members with the attention they need, engagement can increase very quickly. In fact, Leschke-Kahle says she has seen engagement increase as much as two to three times within a 12-week period as a result of frequent, light-touch attention.

"Being a manager doesn't mean you have to tell people how they're broken. Rather, you can focus on their strengths as opportunities to be accelerated."

- Amy Leschke-Kahle, VP of Performance Acceleration at The Marcus Buckingham Company
 

2. Today's Leadership Is... Habitual

It's also important to embrace the fact that leading through effective communication is not a one-time activity. Leadership and performance acceleration must be baked into the habitual, everyday work that moves your team toward its goals, incorporated seamlessly into the stride of work.

For example, committing to something as simple as weekly five-minute conversations with your team is an achievable and sustainable goal most leaders can commit to following through with.

"The big question leaders must ask themselves is, 'How do you make performance management part of the daily work you do?'" says Lewis. "Not just a separate HR process but something that naturally flows with the work leaders are doing on a daily basis. For really good managers, this feels like business as usual, but many managers aren't aware of what a simple process it can be to operationalize these leadership strategies and frequent check-ins into daily life."

The value of habitual leadership practices is compounded over time, especially when you have the technological capabilities to track that data. After all, as Leschke-Kahle says, benchmarks provide context, but every business is unique. Your best benchmark is your own organization over time.

"As a team member, you feel the difference in the frequency of checking in, but from a practitioner perspective, you can actually see it," says Leschke-Kahle. "You can look at the data and see what's happening in engagement week over week, quarter over quarter, and here's the relationship between how 'all in' employees are and their attention to their work. From a leadership perspective, that's very powerful data to have."

3. Today's Leadership Is... Empathetic

The most important thing today's leaders can do is remember that success in both business and leadership are about the people involved. Empathy and paying close attention to the needs, desires and performance of individuals is the most important thing to focus on and is the heart of leading through effective communication. The challenge comes when you try to bring this empathetic and individualistic approach at scale, and that's where technology plays an important role.

"Leadership is not a hierarchical thing — it's a one-on-one thing," says Leschke-Kahle. "When we as leaders pursue the highest performance, productivity and engagement from our teams, we need to remember that what we're really after is what we call 'emotional precursors to extraordinary work,' and that comes from having really frequent attention from your most important person at work — your team leader."

Part of being empathetic is learning how to speak life into your employees rather than criticism.

"Being a manager doesn't mean you have to tell people how they're broken," continues Leschke-Kahle. "Rather, you can focus on their strengths as opportunities to be accelerated. Then you can hyper-focus on the things your people need in order to do their best work. Leaders can step away from the over-complicated, over-programmed practices from the past in favor of these simple, baked-in practices that build real engagement, productivity and connection."

And part of that is taking your limited resources — time and attention — and investing them in your employees.

"You've got to double down on the thing that makes the biggest difference, and the thing that makes the biggest difference is focused attention from your leadership team," says Leschke-Kahle.

As the world of business grows more complex every year, the secret to leading through effective communication is actually quite simple. It boils down to finding ways to give team members human, habitual and empathetic attention and finding ways to do it at scale. When organizations commit to developing leadership skills, employees will likely feel more engaged, productive and loyal. Organizations that ritualize frequent, light-touch attention from leaders can empower employees to access their most productive, most innovative and highest-quality work.

Related article: Focus on These Five "Rights" to Quickly Drive Higher Levels of Engagement

Learn more about how to drive performance through strengths-based engagement.

This article originally appeared in Spark Powered by ADP.

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