When The Ken Blanchard Companies asked 1,400 people the question “What is the biggest mistake leaders make when working with others?” 41 percent of respondents identified inappropriate communication or poor listening.
When these same respondents were asked to look at a list of common mistakes and choose the five biggest missteps by leaders, two responses stood out.
Not providing appropriate feedback was chosen by 82 percent of respondents. Failing to listen or involve others came in a close second, cited by 81 percent. (Failing to use an appropriate leadership style, failing to set clear goals and objectives, and failing to develop their people rounded out the respondents’ top five of things leaders most often fail to do when working with others.)
A 700-person follow-up study conducted by Blanchard in 2013 with readers of Training magazine found similar results. In that survey:
- 28 percent of respondents said they rarely or never discussed future goals and tasks with their boss—even though 70 percent wished they did.
- 36 percent said they never or rarely received performance feedback—even though 67 percent wished they did.
Why are communication and feedback such a challenge in today’s workplaces? The fast pace of work and increased workloads are certainly part of the equation—but another possibility is that new managers are not trained in either of these essential skills. Research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that 47 percent of organizations do not have a formal training program in place for new managers. Research by leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman has found that most managers don’t receive training until they are ten years into their managerial careers.
That’s too late. Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill has found that most managers who survive their first year develop habits—good or bad—that they carry with them for the rest of their careers.
The Ken Blanchard Companies believes it is essential for new managers to develop good communication skills as they step into their first leadership roles. In a new first-time manager curriculum, Blanchard identifies four communication skills new managers need to develop as well as four conversations new managers need to master.
Four Essential Communication Skills
- Listen to Learn—a deeper type of listening where the goal for the manager is to hear something that might change their mind, not just prompt a response.
- Inquire for Insight—when the manager uses questions to draw people out and probe for understanding that might not be shared at first.
- Tell Your Truth—being direct in communication in a way that promotes honest observation without assigning blame.
- Express Confidence—conveying a positive attitude toward the other person and toward future conversations, regardless of the subject.
Four Performance Management Conversations to Master
- The Goal Setting Conversation—setting clear objectives: all good performance begins with clear goals.
- The Praising Conversation—noticing and recognizing progress and good performance: catch people doing things right.
- The Redirecting Conversation—providing feedback and direction when performance is off-track: seize the opportunity before the problem escalates.
- The Wrapping Up Conversation—conducting a short, informal review after a task or goal is finished: savor accomplishments and acknowledge learnings
Becoming skilled in each of these areas not only helps new managers get off to a great start but also can help them succeed for years to come. How are your managers doing in these critical areas? You can read more about the Blanchard approach to first-time manager development in the white paper Essential Skills Every First-Time Manager Should Master.
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