The biggest problem in communication?

Last summer I had the privilege to receive honest feedback from my colleague who was about to leave to take on new challenges. We chatted for a while and the most valuable feedback I had had in years was simply:

“Jukka, please communicate more about your vision and how you plan to execute it.”

I had sincerely thought that there was no need to communicate that much more. I even felt that I might had been slightly too eager in communicating my vision. But that simple feedback opened my eyes: I was wrong and people are not telepathic. And even if they were, everyone is focused on their own issues and tend to forget what is not crucial for them to do their job. On the other hand, I also realized that communication is never just about communication: you are always leading as well as building your brand as a leader.

Every move you make, every word you say – They’ll be watching you.

After the feedback I started to look ways and means to express my vision more. It is not always easy to find the best way to tell people what is expected and why, as it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, see: different target groups respond better to the different ways of communication.

A simple rule of thumb

I have been doing my best to utilize the following principle in communication:

For masses tell stories, for board of directors use data.

The idea behind this short rule is that most people are too lazy to dive deep into facts, but when you are passionate and want to make decisions that hold water, hard data and evidence is preferred.

The elements of a message

On an upper level the elements of message should consist of the following:

  1. Why? What is the reason we are doing things, why am I communicating – what is the big lesson behind it all. What I want people to know? This is the vision.
  2. What happens, how does it feel? The surface, the words to tell the story. Share something emotional, personal, factual and maybe surprise people with a twist or two. This is the mission. If you want more precise advice, don’t worry: I will also write more about storytelling mechanics later.
  3. Next? There should be a fairly simple and precise CTA (call to action) in the story on how to proceed. Don’t ever assume people will understand your subtext: good corporate or marketing communication rarely relies on sharp attention or wits.
building up a personal communication strategy

I also recommend to build up a personal communication strategy. For example, a simple communication strategy in short could be:

  1. At the first stage focus mostly on upper management and on your team. That is mostly because you might want to involve them in making of the vision.
  2. For upper management use more data, for the team emphasize the personal benefits and emotional factors.
  3. As the foundations have been done the next step is to increase transparency and make the vision more company-wide. Use approx. mix of 80% emotion and 20% of data in the end of messages/presentations/whatever are your means of communicating.
  4. If possible, start to express your vision publicly. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, your own/corporate blog and maybe even YouTube are great medias to share your vision to the world. Remember that in mass communication emotion is usually the most effective way to make the vision fly. At least if you want to spread your message to as wide of an audience as possible.
  5. Be careful, nobody is not interested in your vision if it is not relevant to people. Relevance is the key in everything. So make sure your message contains something valuable. It could be a funny story, helpful article, mind blowing stunt or whatever cool thing you come up with. Only your imagination is the limit.
The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernard Shaw
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY

For me the simple and short feedback from the ex-colleague had a massive impact. But in case of an emergency where you don’t have the luxury of getting honest and relevant feedback and help, please send me a message to jukka@jukkaniittymaa.com and let’s have a talk to see if I or my colleagues could help you to excel!

Also remember to subscribe to this blog to get regular tips and tricks to be an ever better leader:

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Protip 1: Focus on relevant issues

Too often leaders rush to solve mundane problems as it gives a warm and fuzzy feeling of purpose: “I’ve done my job and earned my salary. Now I can bath in my cozy mundanity for a while more…”

But guess what? Although leaders are paid to lead and make decisions, it is not wise to make every decision by themselves. See, as by doing so the leader ends up passivating employees when solving every possible problem. And by that he or she also makes himself/herself a bottleneck for growth. The point is to solve REAL challenges – those issues that an employee is not able to solve independently.

Choose your battles!

To summarize: Give up that warm and fuzzy feeling and use your muscles to where extra effort is needed.

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What makes an ever better leader?

I love lists. They help me both to remember and to understand things better. That is why I often write down and compile ideas I come up with while reading, watching and thinking. In this particular list, that is based on my experiences, I picked up seven important characteristics any leader should have:

1. Passion

Every great man recognizes his passion, purpose, calling. I am not able to know your motives, but you should be aware of what motivates you, what makes you feel like you have a purpose. What is your passion? Focus on that and let nothing stop you. Surely there can be times when you need to do something else for a while, but get back to your passion as soon as possible. Passion is the single most important trait a great leader should have.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
– Confucius
2. Be the real you

We don’t need to be perfect. But it is wise to be ourselves. That ensures personal growth on something solid. Unless somebody happens to be a jerk. Then he or she should try to evolve. See, being candid but respectful is totally OK, but being candid and rude is never the choice of a great leader.

“Be yourself. People would rather follow a leader who is
always real than one who is always right.”
– Craig Groeschel
3. Be helpful and kind

In case you need some convincing on “why” here are two reasons to start with:

  1. You will feel good. Majority of us are hardwired so that helping other people will give us a sense of purpose and belonging. As a tribal species, that has just been the winning concept while working together with the members of your tribe.
  2. And nobody gets through this life playing solo.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
– Michael Jordan

4. Be able to trust

For a leader it is just essential to be able to trust people: the more you are able to delegate and trust, the bigger the results can be. Trust also has a tendency to create proactive and committed people who are always many times more valuable than just reactive drone men.

There is also a study made by Google, where they studied teamwork and found out that the most important single factor in a good team is psychological safety, in other words: trust. People will need to feel secure in failing to be able to try their best.

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
– Steve Jobs
5. BE ABLE TO MAKE DECISIONS

To my experience one thing that employees think is particularly important for a leader, is his or her ability to make decisions when things get tricky. Also there is no need for “a leader” who is not able to come up with a solid vision, communicate it to people and make necessary decisions to advance it. Quite often it is the role of a leader to make the hard choices: who or what to keep, what to invest in.

“Inability to make decisions is one of the principal reasons executives fail.” – John C. Maxwell
Word of advice: being a decision maker doesn’t mean that you need to micromanage. As previously said, trust generates proactive people who are super valuable for any business – but if you end up deciding everything people stop thinking themselves and turn into mere drones.
6. BE HUNGRY for growth

Wise leaders understand that business needs to grow and get better or it will sooner or later start to diminish. But pay attention: it is not growth for the sake of growth or greed. It is to expand your organization’s talent, your own skills and resources to follow your calling, to help the client and consumer, and to make the world a better place. Studies show that economical growth makes people more altruistic I.e. people are more able to focus on good things.

To be able to track and follow growth you need to be interested in charts, statistics and reports. Track even your personal growth. Set tangible goals. Make a road-map to yourself.

“Growth is the great separator between those who succeed and those who do not.”
– John C. Maxwell
7. Pursuit of Excellence

Good leaders are never ready. The better you get, the better you understand that there is so much to learn that we can never be perfect when it comes to business. Most likely great leaders study daily, read a lot of books, spend time discussing their ideas, and are ready to use much of their time to become ever better. When you are doing the thing that is your passion, you just keep doing it no matter what.

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
– Albert Einstein

I would love to hear your thoughts either here in comments or in Twitter. Or if you just agree, please share this post in Twitter or LinkedIn. Thanks!

The list was originally inspired by John C. Maxwell’s awesome book “5 Levels of Leadership”.

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My TOP 5 tips to boost and increase effectiveness

Whether you want to get to your goal faster, to have free time for something important or just to be more productive, there are several great ways to boost effectiveness. I have read pretty much about the topic and also done some testing with myself and at the time of writing this blog, I think these five are the best boosters suitable for me. Maybe also for you? So try them out and feel free to share your experiences or your personal suggestions for increasing effectiveness / productivity.

  1. Get enough of sleep

    This is by far the most important single factor. Being tired feels like shit, makes people more prone to accidents, reduces motivation and lessens cognitive skills. I am super aware that it can be really hard to get the usually required 7.5-8 hours of sleep, but it really is worth a try if you want to be the best you.

  2. Do the hardest/shittiest task first thing in the morning.

    Studies have shown that we have limited amount of willpower to be used daily. And EVERY decision drains it, meaning: if you use your willpower to solve petty problems first thing in the morning, it is not getting any easier during the afternoon or evening… Unless you get some rest. Pro tip: Arrange all the important meetings late afternoon, but make sure you get an hour of rest before that meeting to fill up your willpower.

  3. Do NOT open e-mail/social media first thing in the morning.

    Do the step two instead. This might sound stupid as “surely little Facebooking can do no harm while drinking morning coffee?” WRONG! You are using your best time to learn and study for utter crap. Stop it. Read something important or listen to an audiobook. If you’re not spending your mornings in a smart way, in a week you’ll have spent easily few hours just idling around reading pointless status updates.

  4. Do a list of things that matter today…

    This week. This month. This year. In five years. During your life. Start to build it backwards. I.e. think what really matters to you. What you want from your life. Then think how you can advance that in the next five years. And in the next following year. In a month. In a week. In this day. During the next hour. Focus on your list of things that matter. And start it now.

  5. Turn off e-mail notifications and check mail only once in 2-3 hours – the longer interval the better for the quality of work.

    E-mail is a great servant but a terrible master. If you let it pace your day, there is a big risk that you’ll just end up running around stressed and losing the focus on the things that really matter. Respect the list you made in step four.

As a bonus tip I would recommend trying out meditation. Tim Ferris says in his book “4 hour work week” that approx. 80% of the top leaders he has met do some sort of meditation or mindfulness practice. There are also huge amount of evidence and studies that show how meditation improves cognitive skills and helps to reduce anxiety. This can really make a difference to your well-being. But be prepared: regular meditation can cause big things to happen in your life. Luckily they usually are positive after the dust has settled down.

Ever better wishes,
Jukka

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