It's Monday morning. I walked into the office after an early meeting. My team was already at work and I felt like I was already running behind schedule. Typing emails as I walked, I went my desk. Computer on, I started staring at a bigger screen instead.
To me, it was no big deal. I had things to do. Work to focus on. I wasn't making a statement. I was just trying to get from the door to my desk. I didn't think anyone was even paying attention.
I was wrong.
As soon as I walked past, the instant messaging started. "Is he in a bad mood?" "What's wrong?" "Great…I have a meeting with him in an hour."
I had said nothing, but my silence sent a clear message: "Don't bother me today." I had screwed up an incredibly important lesson of leadership communication.
As you get to the office, what's your routine? Are you there before your team or after? Do you say hello as you enter or try not to disturb them as they are getting settled into work? Do you ask about people's weekends or do you get down to business?
When it comes to thinking about how leaders communicate, we often focus on the big things. Leadership books celebrate great leaders of nations and legendary coaches of teams whose soaring oratory and inspirational rhetoric changed the course of history. We dissect their speeches. We put up posters with their quotes. We are implicitly taught that great leadership requires the ability to give great speeches.
As important as these speeches may be, becoming an effective communicator is about much more than the big speech. In fact, in most businesses, most everyday leaders have few opportunities to give the big speech. Whether you are running a company, a department, or a project team, there are few rallying cries and calls to collective action. Most of the time, the moments are much more mundane.
In these moments, your communication is no less important. You still need to motivate your team when success looks daunting. To challenge them to always deliver their best work. To teach them to be resilient and bounce back from adversity. To deliver bad news to some without damaging the morale of all. To promote one well-deserving staffer without sending her peers looking for another job. To celebrate wins without generating complacency. These moments can be very challenging to navigate. To succeed in these moments you must have an emotional connection with your team. They must want to listen to you, to follow you, to trust you.
Which brings me back to "hello."
There are many leaders who believe that they should focus only on business. That employee relationships are meant to be professional not personal. That there is too little time in the day to waste it on small talk. That employees are hired to do a job and they should get down to it.
These leaders do little to create positive emotional connections with their teams. They create a rational, almost transactional relationship. They do not seek to build trust with their teams and as a result they tend not to be trusted. And as a result, they are less likely to be successful in achieving more than what the transaction requires.
On the other end of the spectrum are leaders who understand that people do better work for people they like than for people they don't. They recognize that when you engage your team personally, they are more likely to be engaged professionally. When you show you care about them, they are more likely to care about you and your business. They are more likely to trust you, follow you, work harder for you.
It doesn't take a big speech to create that emotional connection. A simple hello can start to do the job as well.