Leadership communication, lesson 4: Your core communication responsibilities

This is the last part of my series on leadership communication for small business owners. Previous lessons have covered six reasons why leadership communication is critical to the success of any small business, four common problems that arise in how and when leaders communicate and three roadblocks that some small business owners have to overcome in order to lead effectively through communicators.

Today’s lesson is about the six core communication responsibilities of leaders:

1. Articulate the vision, mission, values, goals, and objectives and set priorities. The success of any small business – indeed, of any organization – rests on the ability of its leader to let employees know what is really important. This helps people correctly make the dozens of daily decisions and choices that any job involves.

Do not dismiss this advice by saying, “Oh, everyone knows this stuff; I don’t have to keep saying it.” You DO need to constantly reiterate these messages, especially the vision, mission and values. It is very easy in the hectic flow of business for people to get off track; it is your job as the leader to constantly pull them back to the center. And goals, objectives and especially priorities change from time to time; when they do, people need to hear about the changes from the top.

2. Unify the organization around the vision. It’s up to you, the leader, to excite people about the vision of where your business can go if everyone pulls together. Your vision should be compelling –– something that people want to be a part of. When times are tough, a vision can pull people through, but only if you remind them of it and why it matters.

3. Impart essential business and performance information. People can’t make the right decisions if they’re operating in an information vacuum. The more people know about what is actually happening, the better informed they are to make the right choices. Consider using open books management, in which you share your financial books with employees. Here’s a good article on this topic from Inc. Sure, opening up the books may sound scary at first, but many, many businesses have adopted this practice with good results.

4. Encourage and respond to innovative ideas. Communication has to be a two-way street to fully engage employees. Constantly let people know you want to hear their ideas about how to lower operating costs, serve customers better and other key topics. Most importantly, don’t tell people you want their ideas and then “bazooka” ideas in meetings when someone does speak up. Nothing will stifle innovation more than a boss who makes a habit of shooting down ideas in a public forum. This is particularly damaging when you use a joke to shoot down an idea. Nobody likes to have their idea laughed at, particularly by the boss, so you’ll find that if you do this, people will stop offering ideas.

5. Promote the goals of and recognize employee accomplishments. Running a successful business requires having successful employees. Learn what your employees hope to achieve in their careers and figure out ways to help them achieve their goals. And when they do have a success – from coming up with an idea that cuts costs to completing a training program that improves their skills – make sure you publicly acknowledge it. Being publicly recognized by the leader goes a long way toward promoting employee satisfaction.

6. Maintain a visible presence. For small business owners, this usually isn’t a problem because it’s likely you’re out there working alongside your employees quite often. But even in a small business, a leader can sometimes get too caught up in paperwork or so engrossed with a problem that they get into a habit of “hiding out” behind closed doors and only communicating via e-mail. “Management by walking around” has many benefits, as outlined in this article from CNNMoney. Make it a habit to be accessible to employees; it will pay dividends.

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