How we communicate matters

I made a mistake yesterday. 

I raised an issue in an email that I should have brought up face to face first. I needed an email record that I’d addressed it, but I should have done that after a proper conversation. 

Email strips away facial expression, nuance and the ability to respond immediately to concerns. 

Having sent the email yesterday afternoon I was annoyed at myself to find three emails sent at later and later times in the evening from my colleague. He was feeling threatened, undermined and indignant. All understandable. All unnecessary. 

It was a sensitive issue. I should have predicted the reaction and adjusted my approach accordingly. 

Difficult topics should always be raised face to face first, and then followed up in writing later. 

If you get it wrong, as I did, acknowledge it quickly. Apologise. Don’t roll back from a position you need to take. But do accept you could have handled it better. 

It is inevitable that you’ll get it wrong sometimes. 

Being willing to own up when you do is vital if you want to maintain the respect of your colleagues and encourage an environment in which healthy necessary challenge is welcome. 

Leading from wherever

In a post on thinking about where you sit I introduced a model of every organisation’s structure, with you at it’s centre.

where-are-you

So how do you lead from within? From below and to the side?

We tend to think of “leadership advice” as being designed to help the leader sitting up high build success by working better with the group of people supposed to follow her. In other words, it’s always about leading from above.

But just about every leadership lesson ever written can be applied whatever your situation.

For example… Many lists of leadership characteristics state that leaders must have vision and focus. The image we tend to draw from this is the CEO painting an inspiring picture of a shining future and keeping the troops clear-minded on the one or two key things needed to get there.

But this idea applies to everyone.

Your organisation may have a top-level leader who has set a clear “vision”. So what is YOUR vision for what that means in YOUR part of the business? Or for YOUR role in the hierarchy?

What are the one or two things YOU need to focus on in order to bring that local vision into being? The things that should be on YOUR important but not urgent to do list?

Whatever the leadership technique or approach or idea, wherever you sit in the hierarchy, you can ask yourself “How can apply this to my work, from where I am, in a way that helps our organisation get better?”

Successful organisations challenge and encourage all of their people to think this way.

Start doing so without encouragement and you’ll be leading powerfully from within.

Necessary challenge

Are you always right? Is your boss? Are your colleagues?

Probably not. 

Supposing that we’re often right, though… how do we know when we’re off track?

Someone tells us. 

Someone who is paying attention, who understands the circumstances, who understands you, who is confident enough to pull you up and say… Hang on. Are you sure?

Who has been that person for you? Remember to thank them. 

Have you recently had an opportunity to be that person for someone else? Did you go for it? Or back away?

Learn how to challenge while maintaining collegiality. Cultivate an environment where constructive challenge is seen as fundamental to making good decisions. 

You’ll end up being right more often.