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  • Writer's pictureBrian Reaves

Improve This Vital Management and Life Skill

Be very sure that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t a training issue before you begin a coaching session.

As I have dealt with companies over the years, I have found a few common traits among successful leaders. While there are those gifted individuals who are born leaders and just have it all together, most of us have to consciously focus on improving where we need to. But the area the vast majority of managers need to improve in is actually something relatively easy to fix.

The most basic yet crucial leadership skill is communication. From time to time, re-evaluate your performance in these fundamental areas:

Speaking. Good verbal skills are essential. You have to be able to explain your requests and instructions, your ideas, and your strategies to people inside and outside your organization. Look for opportunities to hone your speaking skills at conferences, in meetings, and among friends. And one of my favorite sayings is "Leaders are readers." Keep your vocabulary (and leadership skills sharp) by keeping a good book handy at all times.

Listening. Pay attention to the people around you. Repeat and paraphrase what they say to make sure you understand—and to show that you take their opinions seriously. Remember to practice active listening, where your body language and eye contact clearly shows you are there in that moment with that person and can clearly articulate what they are trying to get across when the time comes to review it.

Writing. The paper trail you leave tells people a lot about how clearly you think and express yourself. Don’t send even the simplest email without rereading it critically to be sure it says just what you want. And always keep in mind that "harmless joke" that may be fun in person can be misconstrued in written form sometimes. Be safe.

Leading meetings. You should encourage other people to share their ideas without letting discussions meander aimlessly. Sharpen your ability to keep meetings on track and elicit productive comments. Remember that every meeting should begin with a solid agenda and conclude with a commitment for action. Never, ever, ever, ever have a meeting just for the sake of having one. If you can get your point across in an email, do so. Respect the time of your team by making each meeting an obvious necessity and each moment count. You may have a clear calendar that afternoon, but the rest of your team could be fighting for every second.

Resolving conflict. Conflict can be subtle, but you still must defuse it if you want things to get done. You’ll use a lot of the skills already discussed to encourage people to open up and clear the air about their disagreements. Ignoring conflict only allows it to fester and cause more problems throughout the rest of your team. Think about what you are going to say, find the root cause of the problem, and handle it quickly. Do not bury your head in the sand and hope it will all go away on its own. It won't.

Good communication is the key to taking your management skills to the next level. Even if you are an introvert, step out of your comfort zone and find ways to talk to your people every time the need arises without hesitation. Practice with friends and family, and even join a professional (or volunteer) organization in your area that will give you opportunities and training for your communication skills.

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