6 Things Effective Leaders Always Say

UPDATED: January 22, 2016
PUBLISHED: August 24, 2015

Too often we forget our most basic goal in business—to create relationships with clients, customers, prospects, colleagues, shareholders and, at the center of it all, employees.

Lou Solomon, the founder of Interact, a leadership communication consultancy, says if employees are to thrive and unlock the next great idea, the one that will make everyone else happy, they require a relationship with the people around them, starting with their boss:

Recently we helped a leader, we’ll call her Dawn, guide her team through productive dialogue around difficult issues that were holding them back. At the end of the session, we facilitated a round of “acknowledgement and appreciation” in which each individual received specific and thorough feedback on their contribution to the team.

I watched the serious and tired expressions on the faces of these individuals soften as they received honest acknowledgement from one another. When Dawn spoke, they were visibly moved to hear that she understood their talent completely. She told me later that they left feeling lighter, reconnected and ready to get back to the work they loved.

Everyone at every level needs appreciation and meaningful feedback about their work. If you think that’s an obvious and practiced element of leadership, think again. A recent survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of Interact revealedthat more than half of American workers (63%) feel leaders are prevented from being effective by not showing appreciation to employees.

Nearly all (91%) of employed U.S. adults believe that there are interpersonal communication issues that prevent business leaders from leading effectively. This isstartling since we throw extraordinary amounts of money at surveys, re-orgs, consultants and change initiatives du jour.

The survey was conducted within the United States, among 2,033 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, 999of whomareemployed and whose responses are reflected in the findings.

The top communication issues cited as ones that that prevent leaders from being effectivewere (in rank order):

  • Not recognizing employee achievements (63%)
  • Not giving clear directions (57%)
  • Not having time to meet with employees (52%)
  • Refusing to talk to subordinates (51%)
  • Taking credit for others’ ideas (47%)
  • Not offering constructive criticism (39%)
  • Not knowing employees’ names (36%)
  • Refusing to talk to people on the phone/in person (34%)
  • Doesn’t ask about employees’ lives outside work (23%)

Communication is the fundamental element of an organization, and the pattern is established by leaders. Healthy communication requires trust, inclusion, recognition, clear directions, meaningful interaction and feedback at the nerve center of the company.

The most effective leaders understand that clear communication helps a company’s bottom line and can increase productivity. They are diligent about building a sense of connectedness with their teams and appreciation of their employees by saying and asking:

1. “Here’s what I appreciate about you and your contribution.”

The basic “atta-boy” or “atta-girl” doesn’t satisfy people who put their heart and soul into their work. Instead, say something specific like, “I appreciate the way you pull in people from other departments to reach your team goals—you’re a connector.” Leaders need to notice employees’ unique, specific contributions.

2. “Thank you.” (personal and public)

From the elevator to the parking lot, daily interactions represent opportunities for leaders to engage in dynamic interactions and show appreciation for their employees’ efforts. Public recognition at a staff meeting, or a thoughtful “thank you” in a newsletter, are also meaningful.

3.What do you think?”

Employees often withhold their best ideas from leaders who always have the “right” answer or take credit for others’ ideas. Ask questions such as, “What have you noticed?” “How do you think we could improve?” “What is keeping us stuck?” and “What do you love about it?” Establish a safe environment in which people have the opportunity to express themselves and be recognized for their ideas and they will take ownership of the results.

4. “Here’s what’s happening and what you can expect.”

Companies today often operate in a state of change, and all too often, information is withheld until the last minute. This is a huge distraction for employees who need “real speak” about their futures. Leaders often underestimate employees’ ability to accept “why” if it is shared in an honest way. Leaders will gain deep respect when they share as much as they know as soon as they can share it. Explanations are better than no explanations.

5. “I have some feedback for you.”

Don’t wait for a performance review to tell people how they’re doing. A culture of continual feedback is healthy and nimble.

6.Let me share a time I got it wrong.”

Smart, capable leaders who know their stuff are well respected, but employees like and trust leaders who are not only smart but can occasionally lean back and laugh at their own mistakes and who are generous with what life has taught them. The effective leader says, “Let me tell you about something I learned the hard way,” instead of dictating the course to take.

Now find out what 9 things good leaders never say.

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Lou Solomon is the founder and CEO of Interact, a leadership communication consultancy that helps Fortune 500 companies, like Goodrich, Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, and CEOs, managers, entrepreneurs and their teams be true to their authentic self and advance in leadership.