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Laying the foundation Featured

9:36am EDT July 22, 2002

Eighty percent of a leader's time is spent communicating (approximately 2,000 hours per year).

According to a study by the University of Minnesota, 60 percent of all mistakes are due to poor listening skills. These mistakes lead to countless hours spent repairing the damage of poor communications. To lead a company, department or team, strong communication skills are required.

So how do we build ourselves to effective communicators? It's a three-step process.

1. Build a foundation of trust.

2. Design and build a bold and open floor plan.

3. Make sure there are no roofs.

In this month's column, we'll tackle step one, next month, steps two and three.

Without a foundation of trust, we cannot lead people and transform companies. Unfortunately, trust is a one block at a time process that can evaporate with one act of deception or a misunderstanding. Have you ever held a grudge against someone you believe wronged you only one time? So how can we build this foundation?

One-to-one connections

Trust is not a group process, it is created in one-to-one connections. Building these connections requires:

Using multiple media. Find out the medium the other person prefers for communication. Some love the flexibility of answering e-mails. Others want a five-minute telephone call once a week to stay in touch. For others, a face-to-face meeting is necessary.

Getting personal. People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. Ask about the goals and aspirations of those we lead. A leader's role is to serve followers and promote their potential. Ask team members how they're doing, find out their interests and goals and look out for their well being.

Appreciating, appreciating, appreciating. Hand-written thank you notes are the most powerful tools for team building. Identify what specifically the person did that was exemplary and how he or she contributed to the larger project or vision.

Our foundation has no "Buzz-ers"

How often do we communicate directly? Do we use long words, buzzwords and political politeness? To build a foundation of trust, this has got to stop. How?

Kill the buzz. Stop using terms and phrases like downsizing, paradigm shifts and "we need to get more eyeballs and increase the stickiness of our site." Speak in plain English. The goal is to be understood, not to impress.

Don't patch over problems. Use assertive communications. Most people communicate passively. If we have a problem with someone, we complain to someone else, which further erodes trust. How can we communicate assertively?

  • State the problem using only the facts.

  • Describe how these actions make you feel.

  • Explain the negative consequences of these actions and describe your reaction.

  • Describe what specific actions you want the other person to take in the future and the consequences if they fail to take the actions you have defined.

Increase the foundation's size

Trusted communications result when we understand people and situations better. We need to increase our foundation or our perspective to make this happen. As Steven Covey says, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Intellectually, this makes sense. Practically, it's a bit more difficult. Here are some suggestions:

Read, read, and read. Leaders are learners. Their offices have large bookshelves with books they have actually read. Consider one area of specialization and devour books, magazines and tapes focusing on it. Or, build generalist skills -- The New York Times, The Economist and Fast Company are sources to build a wider range of perspective.

Keep eyes and ears open on the job site. Listening is hard work but can be improved.

Concentrate. Remove distractions when possible. Focus on the person you are talking to instead of your cell phone and pagers.

Make eye contact. One powerful way to communicate interest is with our eyes. When we lock onto another person's eyes, this speaks loudly about our interest.

Now that we've begun to develop our rock-solid foundation of trust, the question becomes, how do we design and build a floor plan that really works? Find out next month. Mike Foti (mfoti@leadershipbuilders.com) is CEO/chief visionary officer of Cleveland Glass Block and president of Leadership Builders. Foti works with organizations to influence and motivate their people and help their businesses grow. He can be reached at (216) 531-6085.