You hear it all the time … aspiring managers or vice presidents want to know the most important key to an esteemed business leader’s success. Thinking the answer must be something like inspiring leadership, technological innovation, savvy marketing or far-sighted financial planning — all of which are important — their jaws drop when they learn the truth.
Generally, a savvy leader’s success is directly tied to his or her ability to focus on the business fundamentals – the daily blocking and tackling that every company must master to be a winner in its field. Strong, effective leaders stress fundamentals like discipline, accountability, strategic alignment, managing to his or her values and empowering employees. Additionally, these leaders have mastered the six basic functions of management: leading, planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and communicating. But what’s the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership? Clear communication.
Think about it … how do the best leaders motivate and inspire their people? Through clear communication. How do the best organizations promote discipline, accountability and strategic alignment? With clear communication. And, how do market leaders sell their products and services? With compelling ads and marketing campaigns — in sum, by clear communication. The point itself is crystal clear: In real estate, the old cliché is “location, location, location.” In business leadership, you preach “communication, communication, communication.”
Good Leaders, Good Communicators
There’s no mystery here. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are first-rate communicators. Their values are clear and solid, and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your company to reach new benchmarks of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication. So, how do you do it?
Recommended reading: Mastering Communication at Work: How to Lead, Manage, and Influence
First, you must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It’s not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you’re being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communication primer:
- Prepare how you’ll communicate
• Clarify the goal of the communication.
• Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person.
• Anticipate the receiver’s viewpoint and feelings.
- Deliver the message
• Express your meaning with conviction.
• Relate the message to your larger goals.
• Identify the action to be taken.
• Confirm the other person understands.
- Receive the message
• Keep an open mind.
• Identify key points in the message.
• Value constructive feedback and use it to grow.
• Confirm your understanding.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of the communication afterwards
- Take corrective action as necessary
Primers, of course, aren’t enough. You must go deeper and determine why internal communications are poor or ineffective, considering any potential barriers. Once the barriers have been identified, you’ll see where to improve. Additionally, you’ll inevitably realize the stakes are high when it comes to communicating — if you fail to do this properly, you can poison the atmosphere between you and a colleague, as well as your company’s morale. So the next time you’re drafting a letter, e-mail or policy statement, before you send it, stop and consider these common barriers to clear communication:
- Lack of respect by either party for the other.
- Poorly defined purpose for the communication.
- Failure to establish the best medium for the communication (e-mail and cell phones are NOT the best ways to communicate serious material).
- Assumption that the listener receives the message.
- Ignored emotions or sensitivities.
- Failure to get on the listener’s level of understanding.
- Intimidation by either party.
Once you’ve determined what’s preventing clear communication at your company, dig even deeper, asking key questions that relate to your business’ health such as: How do you produce strategic alignment inside your company? How do you get your team to actively buy into your business goals? How do you ensure that everyone understands and upholds your company’s mission and values? Again, for each of these issues, the answer lies in clear communication.
Write It Down!
In this high-tech, fast-paced world, it’s easy to overlook the value of writing down thoughts, intentions and even visions. Doing so, however, is a basic business strategy that enables clarity and purpose. What’s more, the process of writing a business plan can be more important than the actual document.
One great way to see just how effective writing it down can be is to always have three updated, clearly drafted documents: a mission statement, a values statement and a business plan. In fact, the document-drafting process naturally produces common understanding, consensus, alignment and buy-in. It also promotes clear communication within your management team while empowering your people and grooming them for future leadership.
Why is this so crucial to a business’ success? Mission statements define who you are and where you’re going. Value statements are your compass, the needle keeping you firmly on course. And your business plan is the rudder steering your ship.
For example, think about Thomas Jefferson and the other framers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. They drafted documents that not only defined America and its mission, but also laid the foundation of ideals, principles, values and laws on which the nation operates to this day. And, guess what? They didn’t just sit down one day and dictate it to a secretary. They worked the language and polished every word, over and over, and they used the process itself to promote alignment, consensus and collective buy-in. With words, language and clear communication, they launched a revolution. What’s more, on the shared values of liberty, individual empowerment and collective prosperity, these visionaries built a nation of unparalleled wealth and economic gain.
Communication Is the Key
Bottom line, clear communication is the most important key to a business leader’s success. So to grow as a leader and manager, you must learn how to be an effective, compelling communicator. And if you want your company to succeed, you and your team have to master the art of clear communication together, as well. By using these and other strategies, you and your employees can reach new levels of leadership excellence.
About the author
Lee Froschheiser, president and CEO of Map Consulting (MAP), works with many premiere business leaders and companies nationwide. Lee is also co-author of the best-selling book, “Vital Factors, The Secret to Transforming Your Business – And Your Life.” His consulting firm, MAP, specializes in transforming companies, and accelerates the performance of people, teams and organizations. For more information, call 888-834-3040 or visit www.MapConsulting.com.
Science Lesson: How Plants Communicate
----Populations and Ecosystems
----Behavior of Organisms
----Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
----Natural and human-induced hazards
Students learn the science behind plants’ nonverbal forms of communication. (One species known to communicate is the willow tree. See the trunk of a Scottish willow tree above.)
Don’t miss these related Education World resources: The Plants Around Us: A Science and Art Lesson (grades 4-12) and Learning About Trees (grades 4-8).
- Gain a greater appreciation of plant life, specifically how plants communicate and work together for their mutual benefit.
- Learn how plants—much like animals—send electrical impulses and produce special chemicals in order to defend themselves from predators.
Plants, ecology, ecosystem, survival, nervous system, nature, environment, communication, science, biology
- Computer(s) and Internet access
- Ability to project Wed-based video
- Outdoor access
- Pencils and paper
Humans’ senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing help them interpret the world around them. We know that other creatures—whether other mammals, fish, birds or even plants—take in their existence differently.
It’s clear that living things with eyes, ears and mouths can communicate, but what if these organs aren’t present? Plants are often seen as sedentary organisms with little going on except for feeding and growing, yet we are learning that plants are doing far more. While not taken seriously at first, the science of plant communication continues to develop.
As a class, read the writeup on plant communication below. Afterwards, look at the image below. Have students explain what it represents, using examples from scientific findings on plant communication.
An ecologist at the University of California, Richard Karban is in the northern Sierra Nevada studying plants’ communication, in the hopes of deciphering their “language.” A story, reprinted in Wired with permission from Quanta Magazine, follows Karban’s journey.
The article discusses two studies, published in 1983, that demonstrated how willow trees, poplars and sugar maples send warning signals to each other regarding insect attacks and infestations. In response, trees that had yet to be attacked started sending out their own natural bug repellent in preparation for the approaching pests. This indicated that the trees were actually communicating in a very sophisticated way.
Scientists studied the trees in a variety of settings and were able to replicate the findings (i.e., obtain them multiple times).
University of Lausanne scientist Ted Farmer is also central to the Wired article. He discovered that plants actually send messages via electrical pulses through a voltage system, not unlike the nervous system of an animal. The article notes, however, that this doesn’t equate to plants having neurons or brains.
Farmer and his team hooked Arabidopsis thaliana leaves and stalks to tiny microelectrodes. Then they let the plants be consumed by Egyptian cotton leaf worms. Voltage changes radiated from the damaged plant tissue to the stem, moving out into the rest of the system. The result was a defense compound (known as jasmonic acid) building up all over the plant.
The plant genes that transmit the electrical signals make channels in membranes just within the plant’s cell walls. These channels regulate the passage of the charged ions and are similar to the ion-regulating receptors present in animal sensory systems.
According to Farmer, many parallels exist between plants and humans, and he believes there’s a common ancestor in the evolutionary line.
Plants also communicate through the air. Just about every green plant has its own chemicals that alert other organisms. The article points out that the smell of cut grass is actually a danger signal for other plants.
As a class, watch “What Plants Talk About,” free online from PBS (run time is 53:10). Ask students to actively watch the documentary and take notes.
The program features experimental plant ecologist and University of Alberta professor JC Cahill, who argues that plants regularly interact in their complex lives. He’s studied plants all across the country to identify their “animal” behaviors, and some of that field work is shown in the documentary.
Have students discuss the documentary. Then assign a research essay on a plant that displays animal-like behaviors and/or has been proven to communicate. In addition to requiring at least four credible research sources, have the students include points and examples from both days of the lesson. You may choose to have all students work from the same essay title, such as “Proving That Plants Communicate.”
Bring students on a walk around the school grounds. Have students bring a writing tool and paper to record observations and (if desired) sketch different varieties of plants.
Have an outdoor conversation about the plant community, share your observations and try to identify the types of plants growing on school grounds.
Assess students’ notes, participation in class discussion and outdoor observations. In addition, assess the quality of students' research essays using an appropriate rubric.
Lesson Plan Source
Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
Las updated 10/06/2015.
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