Dave Conrad: How do you deal with a weak company president?
Dear Dave: Our company is led by a nice person, who is not very social with his employees. He is weak and vague when he does talk to us and he does not spend much time mingling with us to get a feel for what is going on. I never will figure out how he got his job. He might be reading your column each week. Can you talk about how leaders can interact and communicate better with their staff? — B
Dear B: People become company leaders and they might have no idea what they are doing. They might have been thrown into the position with two instructions: make the company great and make a lot of money. Sadly, some company leaders tend to choose isolation and hibernation instead of spending time with the employees who might have the answers they need.
Company leaders have a lot of stress and there are many moving parts they must attend to. They get pulled from many directions — customers, employees, the board of directors — and this takes a toll on their time, thinking and ability to communicate to all of the employees more often. They might know they are not communicating more because of time constraints, and they resent it. Or they might not be communicating more simply because they choose not to.
The best leaders I have known always took at least a few minutes each day to mingle with their staff. The employees then believe they are more connected and valued more if leaders talk to them and see what kinds of ideas they might have. Sadly, there are many top executives who do not have people skills and mixing it up with employees scares them to death — especially if the company is not doing very well.
Get out of the office
Often, the company leaders are in the building, but they have checked out. They might have a pile of paperwork to complete and I get that. But, if they are hiding out in their office with the door closed just to keep from bumping into someone, then everyone has a serious problem. My advice to leaders is to carve out some time each day — shorten a meeting or two — and go out and talk to your staff. I know it is hard to be everywhere, but leaders must be visible and spend at least a little time with their employees.
Leaders also can set up live, weekly forums, where they talk to staff about progress and updates, and then field questions from the employees. I will tell you right now, there are people reading this who think I am nuts. They think a leader might get nailed by many embarrassing questions and their credibility will be jeopardized. I think that is flawed thinking because the mileage the leader will receive from conducting the forums is worth more than a hundred memos sent by email. I believe the leader will be respected and praised for communicating in this fashion.
Speaking of emails, I think leaders need to cut down on the number of emails they send by 50 percent — I just picked that number, but it sounds good. Employees spend far too much time cleaning up their “in box,” and this makes it hard for them to do their work. You didn’t mention if your boss is an “email junkie,” but, if he is, he needs to tone it down big time.
The best leaders I knew, or worked for, always spoke with purpose, conviction and confidence. If the leader comes across with little or no belief in what they have to say, employees will crank up the rumor mill and start worrying. Employees watch their leaders and gauge how things are going by the demeanor a leader shows. The employees want to believe things are OK and — if they are — the leader simply must tell them that. However, if things are shaky at best, the leader still must show courage and explain what is being done to move forward and make things right.
In summary, leadership communication skills can be learned, and it appears your leader must learn them. He can join Toastmasters, the Rotary Club or take a Dale Carnegie course. Heck, he could take some business courses at my favorite school, Augsburg University.