In my upcoming book Eat to Lead, I discuss how we can develop good relationships with the people we lead. Interestingly, good relationships are a cornerstone to good health, so it’s important to focus on having good relationships in all areas of life! But if we want to be a good leader, or an excellent one, we have to take our communication skills up a notch—and that requires purposeful learning and practice.
Believe it or not, giving advice so it’s well received isn’t as simple as it seems, nor is it common!
Role models in leadership can be hard to find.
In my early twenties I found myself working for the department of defense in Seoul, South Korea, as the director of a health club spa. It was incredibly interesting, to say the least, to navigate my position as a female in a military environment, as well as a young director running a facility that maintained the highest standards and paid the closest attention to details. I wanted to show respect to those I led and served, and I needed to also be someone who people would listen to and respect.
I knew that I didn’t know the secret sauce that makes a great leader and a great communicator. That’s when I began my quest to learn how to best communicate with others, especially while leading. I observed how other leaders communicate, but I never found someone I wanted to entirely emulate.
After many years and several leadership roles, I ultimately found my study of coaching to be the most helpful in learning how to communicate and lead.
As leaders, there are countless areas where we need to be good at communicating.
One of the areas is giving advice. People may ask us for advice, and when they do, that’s the best time to give it. But sometimes, we may give advice when we’re not asked. This tends to be the worst time to give it.
You may think—but, I’m a leader, so aren’t I supposed to be giving people advice? Not necessarily. Here are a few things I discovered.
Unsolicited advice is the kind of advice that’s valued least.
As leaders when we’re giving advice, we’re usually speaking to adults. Let’s be honest, adults tend not to like being told what to do, whether it be a best friend or a supervisor. Whether it’s good for us, or not.
For this reason, having a two-way conversation about anything will always land better than giving a one-way lecture. I suggest you try to do this in as many encounters with people as you can, as often as you can. Here’s why:
Even if we think we have more experience or knowledge in something, we never know what the person we’re speaking to may know, or may have experienced. As adults, we find answers that resonate with us by pulling from our past experiences and lessons. When we hear unsolicited answers or suggestions that come from other people’s experiences, it almost never clicks.
When someone comes up with his or her own solution, they’re more likely to take the ball and run with it. That’s because multiple parts of their brain came together to make a conclusion that makes a lot of sense to them. David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute explains this is how insights occur. As leaders, we want to help as many people have their own insights as possible; it leads to greater motivation, personal satisfaction, and productivity.
The best way to help someone is to help them help themselves.
Before offering advice, ask some questions to help that person figure out her own answers. Some examples are: What have you tried already? What do you already know about this? What will you do next? How do you want to solve this? How do you see this playing out? Where do you want to take this? What’s your ideal outcome? This gets them thinking about the answers for themselves. This process in itself instigates more learning. It also enables stronger memory of the lessons learned.
In fact, you might be surprised by the great answers that people will come up with on their own. They’ll often be better than what you may have been planning to suggest!
If someone’s really stuck and they can’t come to their own, good answer through your series of questions, then you can say something like: “I’ve been there, want to know what I did?” or “would you like to know what I’d do in that situation?” When you ask permission to share, it opens up a person’s mind to listen to you. When you finally do give a suggestion, it lands on fertile ground, with someone who’s open and ready to hear your opinion.
Another good question is “How can I help?” If they want your opinion or advice, they’ll ask you specifically for it.
Leadership skills aren’t something we’re born with. We learn them along the way.
The best leaders are life-long learners. They attend courses, seek out mentors, and constantly read. I have experience in leadership, I’ve watched others lead, and I’ve taken formal courses in it. But, some of the best learning I received regarding how to talk to people as a leader was from some really great books. I list some of my favorites below.
Have you ever worked on being a better communicator? Are you working on it now? Share in the comments if you have. And, let me know if you’ve read some good books on the subject that I haven’t listed. I’m always looking for the next great place to learn!
And, if you’d like to read more of what I’m reading, follow me on the Facebook page where I post articles that I’ve enjoyed or have comments on.
- American Council on Exercise. (2019). Coaching behavior change: develop practical skills to facilitate long-term behavior change. San Diego, CA.
- Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004). Good business: leadership, flow, and the making of meaning. New York: Penguin Books.
- Rock, D. (n.d.). Quiet leadership six steps to transforming performance at work ; help people think better – dont’ tell them what to do! New York: Harper.
- Stanier, M. B. (2016). The coaching habit say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever. Toronto, Ont.: Box of Crayons Press.