Courageous Communication Strategies for Leaders | Alex Lyon | Skillshare

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Courageous Communication Strategies for Leaders

teacher avatar Alex Lyon, Communication Professor

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

20 Lessons (1h 6m)
    • 1. Overview & Welcome

    • 2. Getting the Most out of this Class (& Class Project)

    • 3. Moving from Control to Collaboratoin

    • 4. The 80:20 Ratio of Facilitating Team Discussions

    • 5. Leadership Roles to Balance Team Discussions

    • 6. Procedural Statements: The Secret to Effective Collaborative Groups

    • 7. Balancing Top-Down & Bottom-Up Communication

    • 8. Using One-On-One Meetings for Upward Feedback

    • 9. Using Super Simple Surveys to Gather Intel

    • 10. Using Supervisors' Opinion Reports as an Upward Channel

    • 11. Moving from Secrecy to Transparency

    • 12. Telling Stories to Communicate Transparently

    • 13. Offering Solutions for Hard-to-Discuss Problems

    • 14. How to Apologize & Lead by Example

    • 15. Moving from Impersonal to Engaging Interactions

    • 16. Creating a Larger In-Group around You

    • 17. Forming High-Quality Relationships

    • 18. Sparking More Engaging Interactions

    • 19. Pulling it All Together

    • 20. Closing Message

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About This Class

This class is called Courageous Communication Strategies for Leaders because it is designed for upwardly mobile professionals, emerging leaders, new team leaders, and departmental managers who want to excel and take their leadership to the next level.

Unfortunately, many leaders today still use old managerial approaches like control, top-down messages, secretive communication, and impersonal interactions. This approach contributes to low employee satisfaction, high turnover, and many other negative outcomes.

As an antidote, this class teaches you courageous alternatives to the old ways of doing things. You'll learn to do the following:  

1. Be a Collaborative leader who gets the most out of the team.

2. Seek Upward Feedback to make meaningful improvements more rapidly.

3. Communicate Transparently to identify and fix problems early.

4. Engage followers and build high-quality relationships with all team members.   

The lessons teach numerous practical, hands-on skills to put each of the four key communication and leadership strategies into practice right away. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Alex Lyon

Communication Professor


Hello there, friend. I make courses to help emerging leaders build their communication skills. I believe that good leadership and communication change lives. I formed this belief when I was young. My first few bosses made a big impact on me. Some of my supervisors were excellent but others had weak leadership skills that made everything worse. Now that I am a leader and supervisor myself, I want to help as many new leaders as possible increase their impact so they can lead their teams with excellence.

I've been teaching college full-time, and consulting and speaking for over 15 years. I published my first book in 2016. 

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1. Overview & Welcome: Today, many organizations are stuck in old, ineffective patterns of management that are controlling, top-down, secretive, and impersonal. This communication and leadership approach almost always causes more harm than good. So I designed this class for leaders or professionals who are headed toward leadership, who recognize that the world has changed and who want to learn alternatives to those outdated leadership approaches. Specifically, this class teaches you a model of four courageous communication strategies. I'll show you how to be more collaborative, solicit upward feedback, be more transparent and more engaging. The class will help you move toward these courageous leadership strategies by teaching you numerous concrete skills that you can put into practice. Every lesson is actionable and the class will help you lead your followers to be more innovative, committed, satisfied, and skilled problem-solvers. In terms of my background, I'm Alex Lyon, I'm a college professor, a speaker, and a consultant. I wrote a book on this very subject, and I've published original research articles and numerous peer reviewed journals. I also have several other online classes and a successful YouTube channel. As John F. Kennedy once said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." So if you want to take your leadership skills to the next level, the first lesson explains how to get the most out of this class and gives you a preview of your class project. I hope to see you in that lesson. 2. Getting the Most out of this Class (& Class Project): Let's talk about how to get the most out of this class. There are two ways. First, I recommend that you do the short application steps at the end of each lesson. Of course, if you prefer, you can simply watch this all the way through, and come back to the action steps later. But I recommend doing the application steps as you go. Some tips may sound like common sense, when I say it, because they are, fundamentals in many ways. To use a metaphor, it's like the game of baseball. On one level, the fundamentals are clear, you throw the ball, you catch the ball and you hit the ball. But that's just a description, when you try it yourself, you'll find, that there's more to it. It might be difficult for you to find the words at first, and it may take a good dose of courage to picture yourself using these skills in real life. The best way to learn is to get some hands-on practice for yourself and let that learning really sink in. The second way, to get the most out of the class is by doing the class project at the end. This is really simple, I have created a downloadable document. It's like a cheat sheet and as you go through the lessons, you can fill in the top takeaways from each of the main four parts of the class. The courageous model again, shows you how to be more collaborative, upward, transparent, and engaging. Four parts, and I want you to finish each part with one key takeaway. I'm going to give you some more practical tips and you can use all at once in the class and the download will help you keep track of the most helpful steps that you can take first. Be sure to adapt these strategies to your personal leadership style and your organizational context. I don't know if you are leading a small organization or a major corporation. Tailor these takeaways in a way that fits your situation. Now let's get started on the main lessons of the class. 3. Moving from Control to Collaboratoin: We are going to contrast two key strategies for leadership, control versus collaboration. At the foundation, most leaders lean either toward a controlling mindset or a collaborative mindset. Naturally in this class, I recommend moving to a collaborative leadership style. Let's look at these more closely to evaluate them and see which one you relate to more. First, control is the most historically overused management tool there is. Control means, I tell you what to do and you're supposed to do it. Control uses one way communication, a monologue. This is where you see autocratic or boss centered leadership style and limit other people's participation. Here are some signs that you maybe in a controlling contexts. Here we see micro-managing and us versus them mentality that results in turf battles, territoriality and adversarialism. When it gets more dysfunctional, we even see the use of unflattering nicknames for other people, bullying, gossip, maybe even yelling and cursing as a norm. But why do some people get so controlling? Well, one reason is insecurity. Some people lack experience or feel inadequate, and then they compensate by controlling others. I'm also convinced that some people already have controlling tendencies in their personal life and then try to pass that off as a legitimate leadership approach at work. Obviously nobody wants to work for this type of leader. Research shows that controlling leadership results in a fight or flight response. Fight is where followers resist leaders attempts at control in ways that stop almost all forward progress. Flight is also common where your most talented followers leave to find a better situation. Now having said that, control is sometimes useful in very specific short-term situations like a crisis. But as a default way of leading, it usually does much more harm than good. In contrast, collaborations are first key strategy of courageous communication. Collaboration requires a measure of courage because it's risky, we have to trust others. Collaboration uses at least a two-way communication process, a dialogue. Leaders showing him spirit of partnership with followers. This is a democratic or team-centered approach that focuses on the co-creation of new ideas. Linus Pauling a scientist and author once said, "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas." Collaboration in part means delegating responsibilities to followers and supporting their creative solutions. It means cultivating a team spirit and supportive relationships. The good news is collaboration leads to high levels of ownership, productivity, participation, satisfaction, passion, and goodwill. Collaboration leads to a rewarding experience for everybody involved especially the leader. The application for this lesson is simple. Question for you to consider and answer right now, which way do you lean? Do you see mainly controlling tendencies in your leadership approach or do you see mainly collaborative tendencies for yourself? If you're unsure, consider how you respond when you're under pressure or in an unfamiliar situation. A little bit of stress usually brings out our dominant approach. If you lean toward control, I encourage you to consider how that approach might be holding you back from becoming the best leader that you can be. If you already lean toward collaboration, then you're one step ahead. In the next lessons, we are going to look at specific hands-on collaboration strategies that you can put into practice. 4. The 80:20 Ratio of Facilitating Team Discussions: One of the best places to practice collaboration, is in group and team settings. Leaders who are good with groups and teams tend to advance their careers much faster than their peers. In this lesson, we'll use the 80-20 ratio as a rule of thumb that will help you lead more collaborative discussions. The bottom line is that you should strive to facilitate discussions and get other people talking about 80 percent of the time. You'd spend the remaining 20 percent making sure the group stays on track. This 80-20 ratio helps establish that crucial balance between structure and interaction. If you have too much structure and you talk the whole time, that won't allow enough space for open discussion. On the other hand, if you don't provide some structure, the conversation will drift to the point where the team won't make any forward progress. The 80 percent facilitation, 20 percent guidance ratio strikes a good balance between interaction and structure. One of the easiest ways to estimate this for yourself, is to look at how much you as the leader talk during the average meeting you lead. If you as the leader talk more than 20 percent of the time, that's a warning sign that you may be dominating the group discussion. Next, let's say you're reducing your talking time to about 20 percent of the meeting to do things like explain the agenda, share information and answer questions. What does facilitation look like during the rest of the time, that other 80 percent? But before I answer that, in my experience observing leaders, most leaders believe that they are much better at facilitating discussions than they are. They think they're facilitating, but they are often actively attempting to persuade and steer discussions to the outcome that they want. I was once doing some executive coaching with a team leader who spent most of her time in meetings pushing the group in her desired direction. When a team member did express other ideas, she would demand that they provide data and rationale for everything they said on the spot. Now, her intentions and her ideas were very good. She genuinely thought she was facilitating most of the time, but really she was just pushing her own ideas so hard, that it shut the conversation down. What should you be doing in that 80 percent of the time of the meeting? What does facilitation actually look like? Will you be spending most of your time asking good questions, listening carefully, looking for ways to get everybody involved and stimulating interaction to keep the conversational ball rolling forward? Facilitation means allowing time and providing gentle guidance to help the group process an issue through open interaction. Now, in some cases, the team may eventually arrive at the leader's point of view anyway. This is what often happened with the client I mentioned. But if that happens, the time you invest in facilitating is still well-spent because the group will feel a greater sense of ownership and commitment about the outcomes in the long run. In terms of application, we will use this 80-20 ratio as a guidepost to help you do an honest self-assessment about your own approach. When you are leading a team meeting, what percentage of the time are you the person talking? That's a starting place for this self-assessment. Give it some honest thought. If you're consistently talking more than 20 percent of the time in meetings that are supposed to be collaborative discussions, then make it a goal to step back and go into a pure facilitation mode more of the time. 5. Leadership Roles to Balance Team Discussions: To get good at leading collaborative discussions and maximizing participation, leaders need to sharpen their skills in two ways; we need to perform task-related roles and relationship-related roles equally well. The research on task and social roles goes back to some classic work from Benne and Sheats that is still used in research and practice today. On one side of the coin, as a leader, you have to perform task roles to keep the conversation on track and keep things moving forward. Some of your task roles should be to act as the initiator, where you prompt the group to look at an issue that needs to be discussed. Maybe you toss an idea on the table so that the group can react to it, or you could suggest the group considers an issue from a different angle. Another role is to seek out information or opinions. You can do this by asking good questions to draw out important details or solicit team members opinions or points of view. Another great task role is coordinator. Here is where you help the group members see the relationship and connections between and among what might seem like different ideas on the surface. You should also play the role of orienter, where you summarize, synthesize, and clarify what the group has discussed so far. When a discussion loses focus, this is a powerful way to provide a platform or a jumping off place to make the discussion productive again. But we can't just focus on the task or the overall positive group dynamic will suffer. On the other side of the coin are social roles that help leaders manage relationship dynamics and participation in the group discussion. You may play the role of encourager, for example. This is where you affirm group members participation. If somebody offers a good idea, you might say that's a really good point. You could also play the role of harmonizer. When you sense that a conflict is emerging, this is where you help to build bridges or reduce tensions, possibly with humor or in other ways to help people continue to feel a sense of belonging in the discussion. The role of compromiser is where you may sometimes need to encourage people to meet in the middle and accept some tradeoffs, so different ideas can be adjusted or combined. Another really important role is gatekeeper. Leaders have a special responsibility to make sure all group members stay involved. The extroverts tend to speak up pretty quickly, and in a group setting, they can often dominate discussions. You have to create some space for the people who need a little more time to process before they participate. You might say, we've heard from a few people, now let's hear from some new voices. If you see someone attempting to find a way into the discussion, you might say something like Keith, you were about to say something, go ahead. Let's turn to application. A balance of task and social roles will help boost participation and create space for more collaborative discussions. How would you evaluate your ability to perform these roles? Are you stronger on the task roles and keeping things on track, or are you stronger on social roles and keeping people involved and encouraged? I suggest you pick one or two of the specific roles we discussed that you want to develop and find a way to put it into practice in your very next meeting. 6. Procedural Statements: The Secret to Effective Collaborative Groups: One key behavior that separates effective from ineffective group leaders is the use of what we call procedural statements. These are moments in the discussion where the leader spells out the steps the team should follow to make decisions and solve problems. Randy Hirokawa, a professor from the University of Hawaii, gets credit for this research. He and his colleagues found that effective groups decide in advance the steps they will follow to make decisions and keep track of their forward progress in the discussion, ineffective leaders don't do this. For example, an ineffective leader might say, "Why don't we go around the room and hear from everybody," which sounds good. But not surprisingly, those discussions did not accomplish much. I once studied a group for a research project in a major corporation and heard a group leader throw a really important issue on the table and say to the group, "What do you all think?" On the service the group had a lively to our discussion about the issue, but in the end they made no decisions. I know from following up that the problem they were supposed to be working on continued to get worse. Instead, research studies show that effective group leaders communicate easy to follow steps, a simple procedure to make sure the group discussion progresses. Effective group leaders make brief procedural statements like, before we jump in with ideas, let's first spell out some clear criteria to help us decide what things to take with us and what we should leave behind before we move forward. After a statement like that, the group can then agree upon some guidelines for the discussion. If you're not sure what steps to follow, you can always fall back on the classic problem-solving steps. These will help you facilitate the discussion rather than control the conversation. I will pretend that I'm leading the meeting and you can imagine yourself in my shoes as I say this, I might say something like, "Let's spend about 10 minutes getting really clear on what the problem actually is." Then for another 10 minutes or so, let's openly brainstorm some possible solutions. Once we have enough good options on the table, let's select the best one. Our goal should be to reach a genuine consensus if possible. How do those steps sound? Most ineffective groups skip this important step. But once you have established some collective understanding of the process, you as a leader would guide that group through the process as creatively as you would like to. In terms of application, take a minute or two and write down some procedural statements that your team could follow to approach a discussion. Express it in your own style and in a way that would most likely resonate with your group. But if you're not sure where to start, you can use the classic problem-solving steps that I recommend as a starting point for those talking points. Define the problem, generate possible solutions, and select the best solution. I suggest you jot these statements down, and I also encourage you to talk through it out loud so you can hear yourself say it and imagine saying it to your team. 7. Balancing Top-Down & Bottom-Up Communication: There's nothing wrong with top-down communication. It's essential, but it's also only half of the story. Leaders who want to be effective need to receive an equal amount of bottom-up communication. In this lesson, we're going to compare and contrast top-down and bottom-up communication, and I recommend increasing the amount of communication that flows upward. Clearly, when we ask for feedback, we may not like what we here at first, but leaders who take a deep breath for courage and get to work on it are always more effective in the long run. At their foundation, most organizations are only designed for top down messages. Most organizations look like a pyramid or a hierarchy of offices. Messages flow from the top executive offices down each link in the chain of command, like these steps of a staircase and eventually reach the frontline employees. Now in large part, good decisions are based upon good intel, high-quality, untainted information. If leaders want to be effective, they have to know how things are actually working on a consistent, ongoing basis. Top-down communication is important, but it won't help you make decisions. Most of the common attempts at upward communication don't work either. Many leaders, for example, have what they call an open-door policy. They say things like my door is always open if you have something to say. But research shows that most employees do not consistently come in and talk to leaders for lots of reasons. Suggestion boxes usually don't work either, at least in the US, we just don't take them seriously, and yes, leaders listen to a lot of random complaints but these messages come from usually the same few people, the professional complainers. These information gaps painted very distorted picture of reality, but to make good decisions, leaders need current, high-quality intel. Lets turn to application. The only way to get serious about bottom-up communication is for the leader to take responsibility. Leaders must commit to staying informed by establishing dedicated channels for upward feedback. We have to separate the chain of command, authority structure from the upward communication channels, because research shows that passing messages back up those same levels of the chain of command does not work. Each person in the chain inevitably adjusts the message ever so slightly to make themselves look a little better. If that feedback ever does get from the bottom all the way to the top, it's often completely different, and once again, it gives leaders distorted information. Instead we have to establish separate channels for communication. They get information right from the source directly to the decision-makers with as little interference as possible in between. As a first step, I recommend that you evaluate your situation. What official, dedicated, channels of communication are there for upward communication alone, upward feedback? Now remember, don't give yourself any credit for saying that we have an open-door policy or have any type of suggestion box. Aside from those, what other specific channels do you currently have for consistent upward feedback? Now if you already have some of these established, then you are certainly ahead. But don't worry if you don't have any setup yet. Next, I'll show you some concrete ways to create dedicated upward channels for feedback in the next few lessons. 8. Using One-On-One Meetings for Upward Feedback: The most effective communication happens face-to-face and one-on-one if possible. If you don't do this already, I am recommending that you use regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with anybody that you supervise, as a way to establish an upward channel for feedback. Leaders typically use these interactions for relationship building and mentoring and sharing information. This is all crucial, but that's still top-down communication. I'm suggesting that you also use them for bottom-up communication by spending at least a third of your time in these meetings asking directly for feedback. Let's turn to application right away. First, if you have not already done this, then commit to scheduling one-on-one meetings with each of your followers about every two weeks. Second, as you prepare your agenda, dedicate at least one-third of the time to asking directly for feedback. This could be done near the end of each meeting or you can set aside every third meeting for lots of upward feedback. Third, prepare yourself and your followers in advance. Share some questions and ask followers to prepare their thoughts. This preparation time will let them distill their feedback and say it in a helpful way. My one-on-ones, I asked questions like this. How are things going for you on the team? What are some concerns or things that we can do to make improvements on the team? You should also ask directly about how you personally can improve as a leader. I just say this plainly, the first time I have these conversations, I say, "I want to improve my leadership skills. I was wondering if you could help me identify some areas that I could work on." I may ask, "How can I become a more effective leader?" I sometimes give them room to speak up by saying, "I realize I'm not always at the top of my game, so what could I do better as a leader?" If you have never asked for this feedback, I realize that you may not want to hear the answers. But I have always been very impressed with the helpfulness of the responses that I receive. But when you do here, hard feedback, you should react with gratefulness. With patients. Don't get defensive. Thank them for their feedback and show them that you can handle it. Forth, I recommend taking notes. I always do this. It shows that you're serious. It helps you follow up later, and It will help you stay composed because it gives you a moment to take what they're saying and take it in. Fifth, I ask them for more of their thinking. In many cases, followers will wait to see how you react before giving you more. Be patient, ask for more of their thinking, really hear them out. Then sixth, of course, follow up. This is not just about letting the vent, this is about making positive changes. But you don't have to solve 10 out of every 10 problems. Most of the professionals I have spoken to say that if a leader can take action on three or four out of every 10 suggestions, they will get credit for being responsive to feedback. They just want to see you do your best. You don't have to be a miracle worker. Your next steps are to put these one-on-one meetings on your calendar. Prepare you and your followers for this upward feedback part and be ready to respond gratefully, patiently, and then follow up with action. One-on-one meetings they're probably the very best way to show your followers that you are serious about hearing their voices. 9. Using Super Simple Surveys to Gather Intel: Many organizations use surveys as a way to gauge employee satisfaction. Surveys have great potential to provide upward feedback, but in most cases organizations don't use them well at all. They ask way too many questions, the data becomes too complex to be helpful, and leaders usually look at the results and say, "That's interesting." They file it away and repeat the process a year later. To me, this is a huge missed opportunity. Surveys are a powerful way to get unfiltered upward feedback and give leaders the data they need to make informed decisions. I'm going to follow the lead of two very respected authors, Larkin & Larkin. They've worked with scores of major name-brand companies on this. They recommend simplifying surveys to just a few questions, sometimes even just one question about a specific issue. Like if there are ramblings from the employees about the quality of the food in the cafeteria, which is a Larkin & Larkin example. Then leaders could distribute a single question survey. They question would look like this. The company cafeteria offers good value for the money. Employees would then rate that statement from 1-10. Larkin & Larkin suggest that if possible, leaders should decide in advance what they will do about the results. For example, leaders may say that if the average score is a seven or above, then they will provide that feedback to the current vendor and extend the contract. If however, the average score is between four and seven, leaders would provide the food vendor direct feedback, but give them a short-term contract and time to improve. If the average score is below four, then leaders would find a new vendor. This extremely straightforward approach would shock most academics, but this is not about publishing a study or making theoretical claims. More questions lead to a more complex dataset which makes it susceptible to spin and distortion. Of course, yes, you could ask more than one question, but the goal is to keep it simple to give leaders the upward feedback they need to take action. It's also a great practice to provide a space for comments on these surveys. Qualitative data will help leaders hear employees voices and understand the reasons behind the scores so they can have a greater depth of knowledge and awareness about the issues. Qualitative comments will make it less likely that you focus on the wrong part of the problem. Let's turn to application. I recommend that you identify a specific concerning issue that you need to know more about. Maybe you are wondering about how employees are receiving a new company-wide initiative. Maybe you want to ask employees to evaluate a new logo that you are considering. In any given year, there are always a handful of specific issues that leaders need better intel about. Your next step is to draft a simple question, just one question that would help you to identify how people feel about it. Maybe you could use the 10 point scale to gauge respondents opinions and reactions and be sure to provide space for qualitative comments so you can hear the reasons behind this scores. If you're happy with the draft, I encourage you to turn it into an actual survey that you can distribute to your team or organization. If you do this a few times a year on key issues, you'll be getting better unfiltered intel than most leaders get in their whole careers. 10. Using Supervisors' Opinion Reports as an Upward Channel: Another simple but powerful tool for collecting upward communication is what Larkin and Larkin call a supervisors' opinion report. Larkin and Larkin are the same researchers and consultants who recommend very simple surveys. In that same spirit, a supervisors' opinion report is another simple, practical tool that they recommend. If you are currently a front-line supervisor or a manager or team leader, then you can simply ask your employees for their opinions. If you are a higher up in your organization, then you would ask your front-line supervisors to submit their written opinions. In other words, you would skip over as many levels as possible and ask your front-line supervisors these questions. Now remember, you want good intel and your front-line people are going to have some of the best intel available in the organization. The goal is to collect an unfiltered and unbiased listing of your supervisors main concerns and worries. In the end, these are the issues that you as a leader wants to identify and get to work on. Here's some ground rules to make sure that we do this right. First, these responses should be limited to one paragraph. The goal is simply to identify an issue. You can follow up on the details once you have these issues brought up. Next, the opinion report should be anonymous. This will allow people to communicate honestly. Third, the results should be shared with all of the leaders in the decision-making chain, from supervisors all the way up to top decision-makers. If your decision-makers are not involved, it is very unlikely that any change will happen. In terms of the prompt, it's also important to keep this simple. You could send out an email that ask a question like the one Larkin and Larkin suggests. What is one thing you've noticed that you wish you had the authority to change, that would make your department more effective or more efficient? Explain what this change would involve. Now, if it were me, I would ask somebody who is both trustworthy and analytical to collect all of this data and organize it into the final opinion report. This is the document that gets passed to all the leaders, so everybody's responses remain anonymous. It's also very important that the results remain unfiltered. It's a good idea to sort the issues that come up into some key themes that you see emerging in the responses, so the report is coherent. But what you don't want is to delete or alter the results to paint a different picture, if interesting deletions or alterations happen that the exercise almost has no point. The goal would be to request opinion reports from employees or supervisors on a regular basis. That might be once a month, it might be once a quarter, depending upon how quickly your industry moves. Your application is exactly what we just explained and you can use the prompt that I provided or you can come up with your own. Create a simple request for employees' or supervisors' opinions about something they wish they could change and what it would take to make that change. Using the guidelines we just discussed, create a draft of a prompt like this and consider how you might roll that out in the coming weeks. 11. Moving from Secrecy to Transparency: There's an old journalism saying, "It's not the crime that gets you, it's the cover up." One clear sign of an ineffective and unsustainable organization is the norm of secrecy and it's up to the courageous leader to move from secrecy to transparency to help get an organization back on track. First, let's talk about secrecy. No organization is immune to problems. We all make errors. Orlando Battista, a scientist and author once said, "An error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it." A study by Milliken, Morrison, and Hewlin found that 85 percent of all professionals and managers admitted to staying silent about at least some important concerns. What separates great leaders from the rest is how they respond to this pressure. Ryan Bisel, a professor and researcher says that, "We are often afraid that if we speak up about a problem, we'll be the ones who get punished even if we're trying to help." Here's a partial list of issues that are difficult to talk about. Bullying, unethical billing practices, deceptive marketing, accounting fraud, data manipulations, sexual harassment or abuse, sexism, racism, harmful products or services, alcohol or drug abuse, stealing from the company, issues of abusing one's power or position, chronic incompetence, unsafe working conditions, environmental harm or other illegal business practices. The key feature here is that secrecy allows all of these to grow. As almost every corporate scandal shows, most problems started small, but secrecy gave them space to grow into monsters that destroy careers and entire organizations. But thankfully, courage and transparency are the antidote. Let me define transparency as I do in my book. First, transparency means organizational openness. This means that all of the processes, guidelines and rules should be an open book to everybody. You should not have one secret process for special people and another public process for the rest. Second, transparency means disclosure. Karl Weick, an organizational researcher said that, "Part of any job requirement must be the necessity for talk." This means that everybody has a responsibility to name problems aloud so they can be fixed. Third, transparency means candor. We must engage in honest conversations even when the topics are sensitive. We must talk about delicate but problematic issues with an equal balance of honesty and respect. Four, transparency means providing the best information available we have, both good and bad. We should never simply tell a one-sided story that benefits us personally, but potentially causes harm elsewhere. Free and informed decisions require forthright discussions of all of the possible costs and reward. Now clearly, this level of transparency is an ambitious standard, but when leaders follow these standards and set the tone, small errors get identified and resolved early before they turn into big problems. The application for this lesson is to look at the list we talked about earlier of the common issues that organizations and leaders often face but are hard to discuss. First, do a self-assessment about the issues that you find the easiest to talk about on the list. Next, make note of any issues that are most difficult for you to personally talk about with others. Third, see if you notice any patterns in your responses. In the next few lessons, we'll talk about some concrete ways and actionable ways to have these difficult but transparent discussions. 12. Telling Stories to Communicate Transparently: One of the best ways to create more open and transparent communication is by telling stories. Stories help identify problems and subtly coach followers on how to respond to the real-life situations they face. Stories don't point the finger and people tend not to argue with a story that fits the situation. Stories are a safe and relatable way to break the ice in a complicated issue, and it makes it easier for others to openly talk about the issue moving forward. These can be success stories or they could be cautionary tales, and they can come from anywhere like something you heard about or your own life. Here are four tips to make this approach more concrete for you: First, your story should be short and clear, short stories stick, aim for 30 seconds or less. Second, ideally give your story a beginning, middle, and end to make them more cohesive and keep the message clear. The beginning of the story should briefly set the stage in about one sentence that identifies a difficult situation. You might say, for example, "A couple of years ago, I heard a longtime employee screaming and cursing at a relatively new guy in the hall This is a true story, by the way. The middle of the story gives relevant details about the problem that you or others faced and how you responded. It might sound like this, "I immediately sent an email to my supervisor about what I had heard, and he met with me the next day so I could give him more of the specifics of the situation." The ending of the story explains concisely how it all turned out. I might say, "My supervisor then followed up with the bully to have a hard conversation, and that employee never bullied anybody again." If you can make your story even more concise than that, all the better. Third, make sure the moral of the story is clear. The whole reason that you are telling the story in the first place is to be transparent about an issue and offer the lesson that you want listeners to learn. Sometimes you will need to spell this out directly and say it, other times, it will be very obvious. From my story, I would want listeners to come away saying to themselves something like, "We don't tolerate bullying here, and when it happens, we confront it," that's the moral of the story. The fourth tip is to start small. It's less intimidating to tell stories about relatively minor situations at first. This lets you practice and shows followers how to talk about problems. You don't have to go after a major incident with your first story. Stories about relatively minor situations lay some groundwork, but still, show your followers your transparency and your priorities. That is all good practice that will equip you to talk about major problems when they come up. Your application is to think of a difficult issue that might be hard to discuss and think of a brief story that helps to break the ice on it. If there is nothing pressing coming to your mind, think of the types of hard to discuss issues that are common in your organization or industry in general. If it helps, use the beginning, middle, and end framework to draft out some talking points. Just make sure your story openly addresses the issue and clearly leads to the lesson that you want listeners to learn. 13. Offering Solutions for Hard-to-Discuss Problems: One key obstacle that prevents us from talking transparently about difficult issues is simply not knowing how to start the conversation in the first place. Thankfully, one of the most empowering, transparent communication strategies is to offer potential solutions to whatever problem that we bring up. When we communicate possible solutions, we show the people around us that there is a way forward. This is especially true when we're talking to people who are above us in the organization, the decision-makers. Our suggested solutions make it easier for them to see that we are trying to help. It makes it more likely that they will jump in and become part of the solution themselves. These conversations still take courage, but we are going to look at a concise, four talking point framework to help us start these conversations and discussions in the least painful way possible. These talking points will help you enlist other people in the effort to address an issue. This framework is inspired in part by Allen Weiner's book on communication and leadership called 'So Smart But', which I highly recommend. Let's assume that you have noticed that there is some issue that you need to tell somebody about to get it fixed. Before the conversation starts, organize your thoughts around these four points. Each of these talking points can be as short as just one sentence. First, name the problem. Just take a deep breath and bottom line it. You can start your sentence with a statement like this, "I wanted to bring something to your attention that I am concerned about," and then name the problem in plain language in one sentence. Second, show some consequences to the problem. It might seem obvious to you, but you want to build your case for taking action by showing how this issue is bad for the organization. You could say something like, "This is creating a bad impression with customers," or "This is costing us X amount of $ every day we don't address it." Be sure to support everything you say with some hard evidence, not just your opinion. Third, suggest a possible solution. You could start this point by saying something like this, here is what I think we should do." Then spell out as concisely as possible how you think the issue should be handled. Your potential solution builds your credibility. The fourth talking point is to offer to take the first step of the solution yourself. Here's how I might lead into that in a conversation with a supervisor. "If you agree, then here's what I would like to do first," and then spell out the first action step in the solution. Now, it's important to mention that the solution you offer may not be the one that gets used and that's okay. I once use these exact talking points with my boss. The solution he came up with ended up being much better than mine because he was aware of other options. These four talking points just get the conversation started as transparently and painlessly as possible. The application for this lesson is to use these four talking points to draft out a message that you could deliver to somebody above you in your organization. To practice, I recommend starting with a relatively minor issue, but one that still needs attention. Last, I recommend practicing it out loud a few times, because it's not just about what you say, but also how you say it. Practice it until you can see it concisely and with a composed attitude. 14. How to Apologize & Lead by Example: We all make mistakes. When we do, we have to have the courage to admit them, apologize, and make it right. In other words, we have to be transparent about our own issues. The expression, "The truth will set you free," fits really well here. Admitting mistakes allows us to fix these problems and move forward more quickly. A sincere apology will help us clean the slate and build our credibility in the long run. It also sets a great example for others to communicate more transparently. Let's look at three steps to make a high-quality, genuine apology. First, own the mistake. You can start your talking points simply by saying, this was my mistake or I'm responsible. That explain concisely the error that you made and where it went wrong. Second, apologize genuinely. You could say for example, I apologize for the confusion I caused, or I'm sorry, I created more work for everybody, or I dropped the ball, please accept my apology. Show your sincerity non-verbally by looking people in the eye. Your nonverbal communication should reinforce your words. As you prepare, double-check your apology so it isn't half-baked. In other words, don't make a half apology or a fake apology. Don't play games with words like the way some people do when they say, I'm sorry that you feel that way, or I'm sorry but or I regret that this happened. These are not genuine apologies and I'm sure you've heard people do this. Maybe they think they're being clever, but other people see right through it and we'll view it as a character issue that will really hurt credibility. If you're going to apologize, just go all in and do it genuinely without qualification. Now let's get into the Bonus round with this next point. Third, say what you will do to fix it either now or in the future. You could say, for example, this won't happen again, I will make sure I have double checked it the next time, or I have cleared my calendar to deal with this today. Go the extra mile to fix the problem and remove all doubt. When we combine a sincere apology with this added corrective action step, people will be much more likely to forgive us, clean the slate and move on. Your application for this lesson is to think of an issue and use these three talking points to practice apologizing. Pick any small mistake maybe from the past and practice your message a couple of times so it's easier to get out. But if this is an issue that you actually are going to apologize for, don't practice it so much that it sounds overly rehearsed or stiff, aim for authenticity. Does apologizing take courage? Of course, it does. But in my experience a genuine, transparent apology virtually is always the first step to turning a situation around. 15. Moving from Impersonal to Engaging Interactions: We are going to look at the growing trend toward impersonal task only communication. In this lesson we're going to talk about how we as leaders can reverse that impersonal trend and create more engaging and personal communication norms in our context. We have all experienced what impersonal communication feels like. It's automated, distant, and superficial. It's purely functional. It focuses only on the momentary task, not the person. We see this mostly and obviously in routinized interactions and defined roles like customer service rep on the phone. But really we see it in almost all professional contexts nowadays. Impersonal communication starts with a mindset that sees other people as mere objects, and then results in outward behaviors that focus on efficiency and task accomplishments only, and puts a low value on human interaction and connection. Too many organizations manage employees in ways that discourage engaging an authentic interaction. Many organizations are stuffed with people who never really connect. In the short run, this may look efficient, but it's not effective. The long term costs are extremely high. Employee turnover is a huge issue and I won't name names, but case studies show that impersonal types of companies have high employee turnover rates of 20, 30 and even 40 percent a year, which is triple or quadruple the national average. We all want more connection than that. People want to feel cared about. Years ago, the author of the book Megatrends, John Nisbett said that the high-tech age requires high-touch balance in the same measure. We have to give that human touch, what I call engaging communication. This looks completely different. Engaging communication begins with the mindset of seeing people as whole human beings who have inherent value and dignity. When we see other people as worthy of a time and respect, that mindset leads us to communicate more positively and meaningful behaviors like warm eye contact, smiling, supportive facial expressions, friendly tone, and better listening. This breaks down barriers and the results really benefit the organization too. We see this in the research on the relationship between supervisors and subordinates, the basic relationship unit in any organization. Employees with engaging high-quality relationships with their supervisors are more productive, take more initiative, have greater commitment, are more satisfied, and have much lower turnover rates. These employees also give their supervisors much higher ratings as leaders. This approach benefits the entire organization. Research on the best places to work like Southwest Airlines and Wegmans show year after year that happy, loyal employees lead to happy, loyal customers. The application for this lesson is for you to examine your own mindset. Do you have a mindset that sees other people mostly as objects that should be about task only communication? Or do you see other people as whole human beings with inherent value or worthy of your time and attention? As mentioned, your mindsets drive your behaviors. If you begin to see other people in a more positive light than your communication behaviors will almost automatically become more engaging and more personal. 16. Creating a Larger In-Group around You: Engaging communication makes the organizational world go around. Good connections with others, helps everything else fall into place. But these connections don't happen by accident. This lesson will help you identify the in-group and out-group that you are a part of. We'll talk about how you can expand the circle around you to create a bigger in-group. Regrettably, on most teams, only two or three followers have an engaging, ideal relationship with their immediate supervisor. Researchers call this small group of people right around the supervisor, the in-group. For a select few, these leaders and followers benefit from these close and supportive relationships. They interact daily and have more access to each other. Members of the in-group often turn into high performers. But it's a mistake to believe that these followers became close to their supervisors because they were already top performers. This is only sometimes the case. People developed close relationships with supervisors for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with their performance as I'm sure you've seen. However, once these individuals are in the in-group, their leader provides them more opportunities to succeed and shows them more consistent support for their work. This leads to better performance. On the other side of the coin. On average, the majority of any given team believes they are on the supervisor's out-group. Leaders are not necessarily intending to keep followers out. It just happens naturally as we gravitate towards some people. But whatever the reason, the costs of a large out-group are high. Out-group members do not enjoy work as much. They don't thrive as much as they could. They get hired for their past performance. But without a good connection to their supervisor, they will not likely reach their potential. On the plus side, this is a huge opportunity for you. If you as a leader, commit to developing more in-group relationships with the members of your team, you will almost automatically see the performance of your entire team go up dramatically. Let's turn to application. We're going to focus on just say these 6-12 people who are right around you on your team. First on a piece of paper, draw a medium-sized circle somewhere in the middle. Inside the circle, write down the initials of anybody that you believe is in your in-group. I have found that most supervisors only list 1-3 people for their in-group. But you might have more. Second, draw a larger circle around that and write the initials of anybody on your team who would likely see themselves as part of the out-group. If you're not sure which circle the individual belongs in, locate them wherever it makes the most sense to you. As you look at these inner and outer circles, this exercise itself may reveal to us something about how you have developed relationships on your team. The ultimate goal is to draw a bigger metaphorical circle around yourself. Expand your in-group, expand your influence to include everybody on your team. Third, keeping all of these benefits in mind for performance, how can you begin to connect more with each of those individual people who are currently in your out-group? What is one thing you can do to help each of those people feel as if they are becoming part of your in-group. What might begin to make the difference? Can you swing by and ask them about their weekend? Can you invite them to grab a quick cup of coffee with you? Think of how you might connect with each person as an individual. That's the quickest way to more engaging relationships and a larger in-group. 17. Forming High-Quality Relationships: The foundational unit in any organization is the relationship between supervisors and their subordinates. We often think that leaders lead a group of followers, but followers generally perceive that they have an individual relationship with their immediate supervisor. As researchers describe them, these relationships are either high-quality, low-quality, or somewhere in between. Decades of research on Leader-Member Exchange Theory, which is sometimes called LMX, shows that when followers believe they have an engaging, high-quality relationship with their supervisor, they transform into ideal followers. This is so powerful that you can take a relatively low-performing employee, connect them with a supervisor who then develops a strong connection with them, and they will often transform and become a top performer over time. The question is how can we, as leaders, create high-quality connections with each of our individual followers? Researchers, Liden and Maslyn, found three key ingredients that these followers and leaders felt about each other. they like each other, they are loyal to each other, and they showed professional respect for each other. Of course, this has to be genuine. First, leaders and followers with high-quality relationships like each other. They share a mutual affection, the type of connection that looks like an interpersonal friendship. Question for you, what does it look like when two people like each other? When I like somebody, I pause, I take the time to connect. I ask people how they're doing and I mean it. I show encouragement both verbally and non-verbally. Second, these leaders and followers demonstrate loyalty to each other across situations. They have each other's backs. What does loyalty look like in the moment? When I'm loyal to somebody, I publicly support them. I will stand up for them when it's important. I look for ways I can help them to achieve their goals and I keep them in mind when I hear about opportunities. Third, they respect each other professionally. These leaders and followers both perceive that the other has a solid reputation. This is a mutual respect based upon their shared work history, their personal experience, and the feedback that they hear about each other. Question, how do we gain respect for others and then show it? Well, respect is usually earned. This usually happens when we learn about other people's personal achievements, or professional recognitions, or simply see them in action and appreciate the value they bring. Then we show it. We might affirm them; when we see them at their best, we nod in approval. We tell them directly, you crashed that presentation. We ask them for advice and when they speak, we lean in and we listen more carefully. The application for this lesson is to begin to think about how you can communicate like this with the people around you. I've mentioned some specific engaging communication behaviors in this lesson. But your task is to give that a little more thought. How could you personally show that you like, are loyal to, and respect the people in and around your team. This isn't limited to the people you directly lead. High-quality relationships create mutual benefits for you, your peers, and of course, your immediate supervisor. Granted, these high-quality relationships should be mutual. But since you are the one taking this class, let's start with you and realize that relationships are reciprocal. When you engage like this with others, they are 10 times more likely to interact with you this way in return. 18. Sparking More Engaging Interactions : A key component of engaging communication is to make sure we are connecting well, both verbally and non-verbally with the people around us. We want to take a mindset that values other people and then translates that into our interactional style with them. The message of this lesson is that small changes make a big impact. We'll look at three tips to make sure we are giving off the right vibe. First, pay attention to how you greet other people. In his book, The Art of Positive Communication, author Julien Mirivel explains that the way we greet each other sets the entire tone for the rest of the conversation. Now, if you are saying to yourself, "Well, of course we should be greeting each other well," you might be surprised at how many people simply walk on by without even acknowledging other people, let alone greeting them well. So when you pass people in the hall or introduce yourself, makes sure to give off engaging nonverbal signals. This means some direct eye contact, a positive facial expression, and usually a nod or a wave for affirmation. We want to combine this with a set of clear verbal messages to show that we are happy to see them. We might say for example, "How's it going?" Or "Good to see you." Or at the beginning of a conversation, we might say, "I was thinking about you just the other day." Also, we should practice good greetings in group settings, which is an opportunity many people miss. Again, many people just walk in and sit down without ever even looking up. But when you walk into a room, you want to nonverbally open a channel with each person there. So as you arrive, and as you make your way to your seat and get settled, quickly give a glance, a nod, a wave to each individual person there. It only takes a moment, but it opens a channel of communication with each person and creates a positive connection almost instantly that sets the right tone. Second, practice making small talk. Research shows that small talk at the beginning of a conversation builds an important connection between people and builds a bridge of trust to more task-related discussions later in the conversation. Small talk shows that we are interested in others as whole people. I suggest developing an informal list of two or three questions to spark some small talk. Ask people about their lives outside of work. If they have a family, ask them about their kids. If they just took a camping trip, ask them how it went. Small talk is beneficial for another reason. As we learn about each other's lives, it's much easier for us to care about them authentically and see them as important. Over time, small talk builds real connections. Another benefit is that they will tend to like us more because of it. When we show that we like other people and take an interest in them, they will take an interest in us. That brings us to our third tip. Be open about who you are. One of the most powerful ways that you can form engaging connections is to disclose information about yourself. Self-disclosure is when you tell people information about yourself that they couldn't tell just by looking at you. You could tell them about appropriate topics like your hobbies, interests, and other aspects of your life. When we take that first step and are open like this, they will almost always do the same. The most common outcome of self-disclosure like this is what we call reciprocity. When you talk about your own life, the other people will almost always reciprocate by telling you something about their life. Openness encourages openness. Your application for this lesson is simply to implement these three tips in your next conversation. Practice your greetings, practice making small talk, and begin to self-disclose a little bit at a time. You can literally start this the very next time you see somebody in the hallway. 19. Pulling it All Together: This lesson is all about pulling it together. You've gone through the class, and now comes the time to boil down some key takeaways that stand out for you. First if you have not already done so I recommend downloading the class worksheet that will help you keep track of the top tips, and recommendations for each of the four parts of the class. Pick the strategies that make the most sense for you. There is a great Chinese proverb that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step. This worksheet is like a road map that will help you take the first steps. Second as always I recommend that you look at your calendar for an upcoming meeting, an important conversation, or some group work. These are all opportunities to put something from the class into practice. Third pick a specific interaction and commit to using some specific skills that you learned in this class. Starts small, pick your battles your goal should not be to change the world in one interaction just start by getting some practice so you can begin to build your skills up to be more collaborative, upward, transparent, and engaging. In short begin communicating more courageously, and I will see you in the final lesson to say farewell. 20. Closing Message: Well, congratulations. You have made it to the end of this class. The only tip I have left for you is to put at least some of these strategies and tactics into practice as soon as possible. Start small and take some action so that this information moves from theory, that's just in your head, and turns it into practice and habits that you can use as a rising leader in your day-to-day life. It has been my pleasure to be your teacher in this class. Feel free to rate and review the class and I invite you to take a look at some of my other classes as well. Thank you for spending the time together with me. Take care and I'll see you in a future video.