How to Effectively Communicate to Leaders

As an leader who loves working with people, I often have the pleasure of hearing from individuals at all levels across the organization.  However, I am often amazed at how many people fail to communicate effectively with their leaders and others. They are terrible at scheduling meetings, pitching their idea or even asking for help. That got me to thinking, what advice would I give to anyone who needs to communicate with me or other leaders? I came up a list of 7 imperatives that I have learned from those who are the most successful.

1) Be contextual – I often have meeting invites or receive emails or presentations that provide little or no context. The senders may have mentioned it in a prior exchange and are usually saturated in the subject themselves, but most leaders are constantly task switching and juggling multiple ideas, projects, discussions, etc., and can struggle to make connections back to the senders requests. While we all want to be superhuman and always “know what you are talking bout”, the truth is that we have a finite capacity to retain more than a handful of contexts. Provide “helps” to onboard the leader and the rest of the audience quickly. That will help you succeed in getting the point across and if needed, a decision. I love seeing context in the meeting invite or email, or in the case of ad hoc meetings, and introductory summary for why he or she should listen to you.

2) Be brief – As with most leaders, I get several hundred emails, calls, texts and IMs per day. I must skim to survive. You should fashion your communications so that important ideas are highlighted. For written communication, make use of white space to help the eye quickly skim and do what you can to avoid unnecessary language. Can I suggest that executives aren’t the only ones who appreciate this and anyone who discovers this art of concise and effective communication will succeed in their career?

3) Be real – Leaders see through bogus accomplishments and self promotion. I’m most impressed with people who are respectful but direct, confident but humble, and candid but optimistic. They spend more time acknowledging others and the achievements of their team rather than their own.

4) Be kind – Good leaders have little tolerance for other leaders or managers who berate, belittle, or otherwise deal harshly with their team or others. Don’t expect to find a gracious audience with your own leader if you can’t deal respectfully, courteously and graciously with your own staff and partners. Treat others as you want to be treated.

5) Be honest – I’ve seen individuals and teams manipulate messages and presentations to get an executive decision or modify perception without providing all the details or slightly modifying the story. If you know something that could materially impact the decision process, why are you hiding it? Blocking signals to manipulate circumstances for your own benefit will backfire on you personally and in some cases have a significant impact on the company, brand, employees or customers. Be honest.

6) Be optimistic – Good leaders are not looking for everyone to be Pollyanna and will prefer a difficult truth to a comforting lie, but rarely are things without hope or some positive element. Bring a bias toward positive solutions, look for the opportunity in the disappointment, the lesson in a setback or wisdom in a failure. Business is about taking risks and moving forward from mistakes. Surround yourself with others who believe we can make a difference and impact the world for the better. Be an optimist.

7) Be proactive – Don’t just tell your leader what someone else needs to do, take action yourself. It’s great to have a plan to make something better and to bring that to the attention of your leader, but be prepared to be part of the solution!  Leaders are always on the lookout for a great idea with muscle. What are you doing to turn your great idea into reality? Get started.

This list is in no way comprehensive, but hopefully it will help you as it has helped me.