Updated: Mar 27
Do you know someone who communicates perfectly all the time?
Me, neither. And, for a ton of reasons.
We’ve all had seasons where it felt like we actually won the “Nobel Prize for Stellar Communication Skills.” Right? When that award-granting group literally came to your office and handed you the really heavy, beautiful trophy with your name engraved on it! Remember?
Then, ‘it’ happened…
During that moment, you weren’t exactly sure how things went wrong. You don’t know when the needle moved off-center, derailing your strategies for effectively reaching your team.
We’ve all been there. Those moments can be tender to walk through.
A few years back, I was the Provost at a university. New, fresh on the scene of senior cabinet-level leadership. A focused, self-motivated, strategy-loving, change agent; this new kid on the block realized she needed to communicate well so the entire team could be successful. Long story short, my zealousness to communicate well actually led me to over-communicate. In volume and in timing.
Meetings consumed my days. Evenings were spent at events cheering on our student-athletes, performers and budding scientists, painters, writers, dreamers, doers, and adventurers. It was grande! Yet, my work as the Chief Academic Officer still needed to be done.
Nights were my time to work - to sift through notes, records, databases, accreditation reports, budgets, faculty promotions and tenure, state filings and legal matters. I would send my responses out as soon as I completed them each night. And, as an early morning riser, I would finish a few more things before sunrise and eagerly send those responses off, as well. Typically, before I worked out, got ready and headed to campus.
I didn’t fully understand what was simmering beneath the surface. Then, ‘it’ happened. ‘It’ was definitely awkward.
I hesitate to admit it. But, I unintentionally contributed to a work culture that had a never-ending pace. It was an environment where an unattainable expectation normalized - everyone worked all day every day. Simply because my communications (and a few other senior leaders) were sent out at all hours of the day and night. Every day.
Guess what? The pace became relentless, people were exhausted, and the quality of work started to plummet.
Our teams and organizations mirror what we, as leaders, do. We set the cultural tone with our own behaviors.
Think about that. There are plenty of examples in society right now. You know, I knew this from being involved in elite sports for so many years. I knew this…
Yet, I still got to experience an incredible take-away - In order to lead well, you MUST communicate effectively.
So, how do you do that? Having studied leaders across many industries, here’s what I have found to be helpful in pulling yourself (and your team) out of that spiraling culture of unmet promises and underdelivered expectations.
7 Ways to Communicate Effectively
Share expectations and boundaries about communicating information - Who is the lead for messaging? Who do they send the messages to and when? How often and how many messages need to be sent to convey the content? Who do recipients respond to and why? What is acceptable language and tone for forthcoming messages?
Have a purpose for communicating - Why are you communicating this? How can it be best delivered - in-person, written, or by voice (phone, tele-conference, Zoom, etc.)?
Be transparent - Use the ‘5 W’s & H’ to guide your message: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Think through all of these before you deliver your message. This will help you maintain a consistent and clear platform. Always lead boldly with honesty and candor.
Double-check your accuracy and have clarity in your message. Be accurate, be concise, and be respectful of the recipients; less is more. Learn how to articulate your intentions as succinctly as possible without compromising on accuracy.
Be aware of the timing of your communications. You create the culture and chart the course. If you are firing off emails and texts all the time, your team will naturally think that they should be doing the same. (If matters lend you to email a group at 3:30pm on Sunday, set the tone in your opening sentence declaring awareness that this is not being sent during normal work hours. Let them know you are cognizant of your own boundaries, or lack thereof.) Time is our greatest resource, yet ironically it's the one thing we typically don’t seem to have enough of.
Set realistic timeframes and let people know the agreed upon deliverables. When you communicate, include completion dates and action steps.
Know your recipients. Be personable. Show your compassion and regard for the people you are sharing with. Being empathetic and vulnerable will allow your team to see that you really are human. They’ll respect you more when you open up. In order to truly know them, they deserve to know you.
A tool we use at the Collaborative that sets the stage for effective meetings is our “Go-Stop” Agenda. This agenda format drives purpose, establishes clarity, inspires transparency, and satisfies our need for clear outcomes and timeliness. Efficiencies, for us, empower effectiveness which ultimately unlocks creativity and innovation. We want to spend our time immersed in activities that spark inspiration, knowing that our end game is always breakthrough innovation.
Download your copy of the "Go-Stop"Agenda. Study it.
Tomorrow, use the “Go-Stop” Agenda to plan two meetings next week. It’s different. So, be confident in your intentions as you lead forward with this. If you can, try it out informally in one meeting as soon as you are comfortable.
Be transparent with everyone before you start the meeting that this is your first time using the “Go-Stop“ Agenda. Once the meeting has wrapped up and before everyone leaves, seek their feedback on the agenda and flow.
Use as many rows and action items as you need. You might like to keep your agenda to 3-5 items. Or, you might have a laundry list of things that need to be discussed. Adjust it to fit your specific needs. (Stick to the 7 Ways to Communicate Effectively stated above.)
Finally, after you have used the “Go-Stop” Agenda and it has comfortably settled into your culture, reflect on its effectiveness. For your organization, did this help you innovate forward with some new or different efficiencies? What are they?
Let us know how this informed your best next steps. Comment below and share how the “Go-Stop” Agenda inspired your team culture. Let’s learn from each other and affirm those within our community.
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Nancy H. Cummings