Business Banking E-Newsletter - July 2012
10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders
It is simply impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. Notice that the previous sentence didn’t refer to being a great talker – big difference. The key to becoming a skillful communicator is rarely found in what has been taught in the world of academia. From our earliest days in the classroom we are trained to focus on enunciation, vocabulary, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax and the like. In other words, we are taught to focus on ourselves. While these things shouldn’t be belittled, as they’re important to learn, it’s the more subtle elements of communication rarely taught in the classroom (the elements that focus on others), which leaders desperately need to learn. Here you will find a few of the communication traits, which if used consistently, will help you achieve better communication results.
It is the ability to develop a keen external awareness that separates the truly great communicators from those who muddle through their interactions with others. Examine the world’s greatest leaders and you’ll find them all to be exceptional communicators. They might talk about their ideas, but they do so in a way which also speaks to your emotions and your aspirations. They realize if their message doesn’t take deep root with the audience then it likely won’t be understood, much less championed.
It doesn’t come as any great surprise that most leaders spend the overwhelming majority of their time each day in some type of an interpersonal situation. It also doesn’t come as a great shock that a large number of organizational problems occur as a result of poor communications. It is precisely this paradox that underscores the need for leaders to focus on becoming great communicators. Effective communication is an essential component of professional success whether it is at the interpersonal, inter-group, intra-group, organizational, or external level. While developing an understanding of great communication skills is easier than one might think, being able to appropriately draw upon said skills when the chips are down is not always as easy as one might hope for.
Skills acquired and/or knowledge gained are only valuable to the extent they can be practically applied when called for. The number one thing great communicators have in common is they possess a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness. The best communicators are great listeners and astute in their observations. Great communicators are skilled at reading a person/group by sensing the moods, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of those being communicated with. Not only do they read their environment well, but they possess the uncanny ability to adapt their messaging to said environment without missing a beat. The message is not about the messenger; it has nothing to do with messenger; it is however 100% about meeting the needs and the expectations of those you’re communicating with.
So, how do you know when your skills have matured to the point that you’ve become an excellent communicator? The answer is you’ll have reached the point where your interactions with others consistently use the following ten principles:
1. Speak not with a forked tongue: In most cases, people just won’t open up to those they don’t trust. When people have a sense a leader is worthy of their trust they will invest time and take risks in ways they never would if their leader had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity. While you can attempt to demand trust, it rarely works. Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decisioning. Keep in mind people will forgive many things where trust exists, but will rarely forgive anything where trust is absent.
2. Get personal: There is great truth in the following axiom: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Classic business theory tells leaders to stay at arms length. Some say stay at arms length if you want to remain in the dark receiving only highly sanitized versions of the truth. If you don’t develop meaningful relationships with people you’ll never know what’s really on their mind until it’s too late to do anything about it.
3. Get specific: Specificity is better than Ambiguity 11 times out of 10: Learn to communicate with clarity. Simple and concise is always better than complicated and confusing. Time has never been a more precious commodity than it is today. It is critical leaders learn how to cut to the chase and hit the high points – it’s also important to expect the same from others. Without understanding the value of brevity and clarity it is unlikely you’ll ever be afforded the opportunity to get to the granular level as people will tune you out long before you ever get there. Your goal is to weed out the superfluous and to make your words count.
4. Focus on the leave-behinds not the take-aways: The best communicators are not only skilled at learning and gathering information while communicating, they are also adept at transferring ideas, aligning expectations, inspiring action, and spreading their vision. The key is to approach each interaction with a servant’s heart. When you truly focus on contributing more than receiving you will have accomplished the goal. Even though this may seem counter-intuitive, by intensely focusing on the other party’s wants, needs & desires, you’ll learn far more than you ever would by focusing on your agenda.
5. Have an open mind: I’ve often said that the rigidity of a closed mind is the single greatest limiting factor of new opportunities. A leader takes their game to a whole new level the minute they willingly seek out those who hold dissenting opinions and opposing positions with the goal not of convincing them to change their minds, but with the goal of understanding what’s on their mind. It’s amazing how many people are truly fearful of opposing views, when what they should be is genuinely curious and interested. Open dialogs with those who confront you, challenge you, stretch you, and develop you. Remember that it’s not the opinion that matters, but rather the willingness to discuss it with an open mind and learn.
6. Shut-up and listen: Great leaders know when to dial it up, dial it down, and dial it off (mostly down and off). Simply broadcasting your message ad nauseum will not have the same result as engaging in meaningful conversation, but this assumes that you understand that the greatest form of discourse takes place within a conversation, and not a lecture or a monologue. When you reach that point in your life where the light bulb goes off, and you begin to understand that knowledge is not gained by flapping your lips, but by removing your ear wax, you have taken the first step to becoming a skilled communicator.
7. Replace ego with empathy: Leaders have been long advised not to let their ego write checks that their talent can’t cash. When candor is communicated with empathy & caring and not the prideful arrogance of an over inflated ego good things begin to happen. Empathetic communicators display a level of authenticity and transparency that is not present with those who choose to communicate behind the carefully crafted facade propped-up by a very fragile ego. Understanding this communication principle is what helps turn anger into respect and doubt into trust.
8. Read between the lines: Take a moment and reflect back on any great leader that comes to mind… you’ll find they are very adept at reading between the lines. They have the uncanny ability to understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard. Being a leader should not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather astute leaders know that there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by filibustering. In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind that they fail to realize everything to be gained from the minds of others. Keep your eyes & ears open and your mouth shut and you’ll be amazed at how your level or organizational awareness is raised.
9. When you speak, know what you’re talking about: Develop a technical command over your subject matter. If you don’t possess subject matter expertise, few people will give you the time of day. Most successful people have little interest in listening to those individuals who cannot add value to a situation or topic, but force themselves into a conversation just to hear themselves speak. The fake it until you make it days have long since passed, and for most people, fast and slick equals not credible. You’ve all heard the saying “it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters,” and while there is surely an element of truth in that statement, it matters very much what you say. Good communicators address both the “what” and “how” aspects of messaging so they don’t fall prey to becoming the smooth talker who leaves people with the impression of form over substance.
10. Speak to groups as individuals: Leaders don’t always have the luxury of speaking to individuals in an intimate setting. Great communicators can tailor a message such that they can speak to 10 people in a conference room or 10,000 people in an auditorium and have them feel as if they were speaking directly to each one of them as an individual. Knowing how to work a room and establish credibility, trust, and rapport are keys to successful interactions.
11. Bonus – Be prepared to change the message if needed: Another component of communications strategy that is rarely discussed is how to prevent a message from going bad, and what to do when does. It’s called being prepared and developing a contingency plan. Again, you must keep in mind that for successful interactions to occur, your objective must be in alignment with those you are communicating with. If your expertise, empathy, clarity, etc. don’t have the desired effect, which by the way is very rare, you need to be able to make an impact by changing things up on the fly. Use great questions, humor, stories, analogies, relevant data, and where needed, bold statements to help connect and engender the confidence and trust that it takes for people to want to engage. While it is sometimes necessary to “Shock and Awe” this tactic should be reserved as a last resort.
Don’t assume someone is ready to have a particular conversation with you just because you’re ready to have the conversation with them. Spending time paving the way for a productive conversation is far better than coming off as the proverbial bull in a china shop. Furthermore, you cannot assume anyone knows where you’re coming from if you don’t tell them. Many people assume everyone knows what they want to occur without ever finding it necessary to communicate their objective. If you fail to justify your message with knowledge, business logic, reason, empathy etc., you will find that said message will likely fall on deaf ears needing reinforcement or clarification afterward.
Bottom line – The leadership lesson here is whenever you have a message to communicate (either directly, or indirectly through a third party) make sure said message is true & correct, well reasoned, and substantiated by solid business logic that is specific, consistent, clear and accurate. Spending a little extra time on the front-end of the messaging curve will likely save you from considerable aggravation and brain damage on the back-end. Most importantly of all, keep in mind that communication is not about you, your opinions, your positions or your circumstances. It’s about helping others by meeting their needs, understanding their concerns, and adding value to their world. Do these things and you’ll drastically reduce the number of communication problems you’ll experience moving forward.
The 4 Crucial Mistakes Companies Make During Downturns
Now that we’re starting to see signs of economic recovery, it’s key to assess where we’ve been, the mistakes we’ve made, and how to course-correct for the next burst of growth.
Here’s the reality: companies make mistakes all the time. In an economic downturn, however, avoiding the big slip ups becomes all the more crucial. When the heat is on some business owners will react impulsively, and while this may earn them some points for courage and speed, in a rough economy one needs to take the long view and pace themselves.
To get funded, stay funded, and even stretch your day-to-day cash flow, you’ll need to avoid some key mistakes. And if you’ve made them already, it’s time for a strong course-correction.
Here are the top four mistakes to avoid during a downturn.
1. Hasty Hiring: Result: Bad hires who are costly and time consuming.
It’s better to try out new staff members as independent contractors first. Then, after you’re confident that they work well with your team and share your values, bring them on as permanent hires.
When you’re overwhelmed and overworked, it’s easy to make hiring mistakes. That’s why relying on contractors is a great policy. Check out sites like TaskRabbit, Marketing Sherpa, or NoonDalton for administrative, virtual marketing, bookkeeping and other help. Rates can be surprisingly low. And don’t make the mistake of staffing up fully, only to discover that your business operates in waves. Have a lean team, and hire extra hands for the heavier times. Try out your team members before making them permanent.
2. Pausing Your Profit: Result: Financial pressure due to propping up ailing products, divisions, and accounts.
Sometimes you can sell your way out of a recession, yet at all times you need to streamline expenses and adjust your financial strategy. We heard of a company that recently outsourced an entire division of their company. It hadn’t been profitable, and the other divisions were supporting it financially. Yes, the decision was painful and resulted in a lay off. Yet it had to happen for the health of the company. The outsourced division now generates a healthy profit.
Another pays increased commission for selling higher margin products. A super compelling plan was laid out and the sales force is now focused on the products that are best for the company’s bottom line, and coincidentally, best for the customer.
Now is the time to course-correct if you’ve under charged clients too. This often happens when we’re desperate to close a sale without keeping an eye on generating enough profit. With a stronger more resonant value proposition this is doable. Craft the message, collaborate with the client on key success metrics, report on the metrics monthly, and get the account to the level that is fair and profitable for you. Resenting a client because you under charged them is something you never want to do. Ever.
3. Skipping the Six-Month Plan: Result: “Strategy of the Second” – and very little accomplished.
It’s better to map out the next six months, and if a new project comes up, swap it out with one of equal complexity that is already on your plan. Entrepreneurial business owners can be excessive idea generators. With a six-month plan, you will have mapped out the projects for the immediate, foreseeable future and can skillfully avoid manic distractions with poor results.
Consider the perils of one company, with the painful “strategy of the second” plan. Each time its mercurial owner returned from a conference, he’d have a new idea. Were they good ones? Often. But his already stretched staff had no spare energy. Since they had not learned to communicate clearly with one another, they would take on the new project, but all sorts of key tasks would (of course) get dropped or delayed, and no one was happy.
Ultimately, you need a gatekeeper for the six-month plan if you want your company to run efficiently. This is someone who will ensure the new projects are either scheduled later or will replace existing project(s) of equal size. Someone who will constantly see the big picture, tackle the small details, and facilitate real results every step of the way is key.
4. Chasing All Sales Leads: Result: Wasting time on “prospects” who will not become clients.
A CEO of a consulting company complained recently that she had chased a key account for four months. Four months! She finally lost hope that they would ever become a client. When asked if she had a disqualification process, she hesitated. Here’s the net-net: you only want to spend time with real prospects. Create a disqualification process so you can quickly remove contacts from your sales pipeline that will most likely never buy your product or service or have no intention to buy it in the near term. In tough economic times especially, you must focus your energies on productive revenue streams.
Double Your Sales and Trump Your Competitors In 3 Easy Steps
Why do so many businesses struggle with ramping up sales?
It’s because they’re pitching, not educating. Seems obvious, right? Wrong.
Let’s say you sell telephone systems, like Company X does. Company X practiced sales by cold calling prospective companies to ask if they were interested in talking about a new telephone system (yuck—this is a standard product pitch). They had four salespeople making hundreds of calls per day. The result? A whopping three appointments per week. Ack.
First of all, every company that has a phone system more than five years old could benefit from a new phone system. Heck, more than 15 of the major providers of phone systems from just 10 years ago are now out of the phone system business. But inertia is a powerful force–and the enemy of business building and good choices. If the phone system isn’t broke—why fix it?
Ready to double sales? Consider taking the following steps.
Step 1. The first thing Company X did after discovering the education-based marketing concept was target bigger companies. The bigger the company, the bigger the phone system. The bigger the phone system, the bigger the sales potential.
Step 2. The salespeople called the 2,000 largest companies in their market with two simple questions: “Hi, we’re doing our annual telephone system survey. I just need to know two things: What is the model of your phone system and how old is it?” In two days, the salespeople had a list of 508 companies with old and often obsolete phone systems.
Step 3. Now for the best part: Education-based marketing. The sales reps called on these larger companies with one offer: “We have a new educational program entitled The Nine Ways You’re Wasting Money on Your Voice and Data Spending.” They continued, saying: “We’ve been in the telephone business for 10 years now, and we’ve found that every company wastes money on voice and data spending in at least nine areas. We’ve put together a white paper to teach companies how to stop wasting—and start saving–money. If you ever need any help at all with your voice, data or telephone system needs, we want you to know about us. So we’re sending you our white paper.”
This approach increased their appointments ten fold, from three per week to 30 per week. This company’s revenue was $3 million the year prior to using the education-based marketing approach. After six months, Company X’s sales pipeline was $9 million strong.
To drive this point home about the power of education-based marketing, let’s review a few ineffective education-based marketing approaches, alongside more effective ones.
Ineffective offer: “Let me teach you why you should list your house with me.”
Effective offer: “Let me teach you the five mistakes everyone makes when they sell their house. No matter who you list with, you’ll want to know these things.”
Business: Financial Planner
Ineffective offer: “I want to come and talk to you about how I can help you plan for a better financial future.”
Effective offer: “Even if you never do anything with me, I want to make sure you know that there are five critical mistakes everyone makes in trying to accumulate wealth.”
Business: Technology Services Firm
Ineffective offer: “Let me tell you how great we are at helping with your IT services.”
Effective offer: “As part of our effort to build better relationships in the business community, we offer a free white paper entitled ‘Six ways to dramatically increase productivity using your current technology.’”
Education-Based Marketing Net-Net
Sales is about building rapport, not breaking it. When you sell, or pitch, you’re often breaking rapport because the prospect may be skeptical–no one wants to be “sold.” When you educate, you build rapport. Your business building efforts AND credibility is increased significantly when you start with data that is of value to the prospect. Launch all your meetings by teaching your prospect something, or by offering data that establishes that you’ve done your homework.
If your local newspaper called and offered to teach you seven things that make all businesses succeed, you’d probably find that pretty tough to decline. Sure, they’d still have to talk you into the meeting, but it would be an easier sell than talking you into a meeting to pitch you on advertising in their publication.
If you embrace education-based marketing you’ll out-market your competitors every time. Education-based marketing attracts buyers before they think about buying. It casts a wider net, attracts more buyers, and closes a higher percentage of prospects if the education you give is of true value.
How to Create a Disaster Plan
No matter how good you are as a businessperson and manager, there will always be circumstances beyond your control that can affect your business.
No one likes to think about such large-scale catastrophes as devastating hurricanes, earthquakes or — in today’s world — terrorist attacks. Fortunately, those events are rare, but smaller “disasters,” such as computer crashes and power outages, can wreak havoc on a small business.
Preparing for the worst can help minimize the risk. Sample disaster plans are widely available online, including the SBA’s Web site, and can be customized for your business needs.
Here’s a short list of how to prepare to best protect your business, should disaster strike:
Review insurance policies: It’s smart for any business owner to take out property insurance policies, which cover the cost of replacing damaged or destroyed equipment or buildings. But also consider business interruption insurance, which covers lost income in the event that your business is forced to shut down temporarily.
Develop a contingency plan: Come up with a list of backup vendors or suppliers in case your primary ones are shut down. Consider alternative work sites so that you can keep operating. Keep a list of twenty- four- hour emergency numbers for all your employees, and develop a quick and efficient way of keeping employees informed.
Back it up: Make backup copies of all critical records, such as accounting and employee data, customer lists, production formulas and inventory. Keep that information in a separate location at least fifty miles away, or subscribe to an online data backup service provider.