Based on an article in Inc. Magazine written by Jeff Haden, this article addresses the fourth on a list of eight things truly outstanding leaders do without thinking: communication.
For this fourth installment, Valencia employees, Dave Heffernan, interim managing director, Criminal Justice Institute; Sal Navarro, courier services manager; and John Letterman, managing director, facilities, share how they interact with their teams to build confidence, momentum and support.
Our work is filled with what: What to execute, what to implement, what to say and sometimes even what to feel. What’s often missing is the why. Tell me what to do and I’ll try to do it; tell me why, help me understand why, help me believe and make that why my mission too … and I’ll run through proverbial brick walls to do the impossible.
Managers stipulate. Outstanding leaders explain. And then they listen because the most effective communication involves way more listening than talking.
Dave Heffernan explains that he finds it easy to communicate the “why” to his team at Valencia because so much of what we do is directly related to our purpose.
“Generally, at the outset of any task, I explain the goal, then relate it to our purpose, i.e., improving student learning or improving the student experience. Then I open it up for feedback from the team by asking a question like, ‘what ideas do you have for accomplishing this?’ Opening the dialog to feedback always enriches the process and, on occasion, saves the day when I haven’t clearly explained something.”
The impact of taking the time to explain the rationale behind a process, policy or new initiative is far reaching and can dramatically improve the final outcome of a project.
“It is important that the staff understand the ‘why’ so they know how to give you the best ‘what!’ And what’s interesting about a well-informed team is that they will oftentimes improve upon the initially identified result. Without the ‘why,’ your staff can’t creatively respond to the project with their full capacity,” Dave said.
“We all benefit from new information, suggestions and hearing concerns when we take the time to actively listen to one another,” he said. “As an example, when we implemented the Internal Package Movement Request Form, this really helped us improve the quality of work we were producing on a regular basis.”
When communicating the “why” behind the new request form, Sal was candid with his team.
“I explained to the staff that, in some instances, we weren’t always able to recall where internal items originated when on a mail run, which leads to a lack of information being recorded in our internal tracking system. By gaining this information, this helps us improve our delivery efficiency and provide the necessary feedback when questions arise,” Sal explained. His staff was involved in the creation of this new form and were able to contribute their ideas and efforts implemented into this new daily regimen.
For John Letterman, the “why” starts with him.
“For me the answers start with my own understanding of the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. After that, I’ve found that if I can clearly convey the ‘what’ and inspire my team to become stakeholders in the ‘how,’ then ownership of the ‘why’ becomes much more organic,” John surmised. “It’s been my experience that this approach tends to draw people into the conversation, gives everyone a greater stake in the outcome and lets folks become more comfortable providing me with constructive criticism.”
These Valencia leaders demonstrate that by communicating openly and encouraging feedback and input within and from their teams, it creates an environment ripe for engagement.