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Powerful Conversations: How High-Impact Leaders Communicate

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All leaders talk, but it is what they say and how they say it that determines whether the group succeeds or fails.

Think about it: the leader’s most fundamental and most important job is to be in touch with those around him or her. Whether it is in the hallways or on the phone, in the middle of the workday or after hours, while delivering a performance review to a key employee or a yearly address to thousands of employees, leaders are involved in a constant series of conversations.

Through these encounters, whether brief and spontaneous or scheduled and structured, leaders try to use their time with colleagues, employees, customers, and others to reach a variety of ends. Grabbing a moment, the leader takes the opportunity to influence and direct a member of the sales staff. A weekly meeting becomes a chance to coach a manager and gather information about the department’s morale and its financial numbers. A quick e-mail checks on the progress of a research project and gives a boost of recognition and support to the team. During a strategy meeting, the leader negotiates next steps with division heads and outlines a coordinated approach. At a company awards ceremony, he or she tries to hammer home a message about values and goals. In short, the leader, through his or her conversations, aims to foster relationships, build support networks, and sharpen organizational focus.

Yet outcomes from conversations are too often unclear. Perceptions don’t always match. Influences are frequently not as profound as one would hope. Communication is generally a struggle with mixed, uncertain, and unpredictable results. Too much conversation is ad hoc and hinges on moods, energy levels, relationships, and personalities. Sometimes a leader is right on point. Sometimes he or she clicks and forges a new connection. Other times, the leader misses the mark. Either way, he or she pushes on, lining up the next meeting, setting up the next goal, responding to the latest need for clarification.

Communication is never easy. Inevitably, when a leader is driving change and dealing with conflicting agendas, some conversations provide a challenge that tests the bounds and skill of experience. During the heat of a difficult conversation, you need to fall back on a discipline. You need clear communication that advances agendas, promotes learning, and strengthens relationships. It’s the difference between achieving objectives and having everything fall apart—and the difference between winning and losing.

Imagine having to let a close friend know that he or she is off a project because of poor performance, yet wanting at the same time to preserve the strength of the relationship. Imagine having to make necessary structural changes to an organization, realigning roles and positions in ways that involve cuts in the workforce, yet wanting at the same time to bolster morale and organizational commitment. These are the difficult conversations that High-Impact Leaders face every single day, so what makes them different from any other leader?

High-Impact Leaders are the people who get results. They are the ones who make things happen. They are the leaders who are able to continually advance a clear agenda, get others to buy into it, and move an organization, a division, or a team forward. Being a High-Impact Leader has nothing whatsoever to do with title or rank, because High-Impact Leaders can be found up, down, and across any organization.

-Impact Leaders are the ones who cause no surprises. They are explicit, consistent, concise, and authentic. They sometimes have an abundance of charisma, but that is clearly not a prerequisite. More to the point, High-Impact Leaders are the ones who take charge wherever they are. They are the ones others want to follow. They are also the leaders whose teams others consistently want to join. When they move on to new roles or new territories, they do not travel alone. Others ask to go with them.

These conditions result because High-Impact Leaders use the technology of Powerful Conversations and then match what they say with what they do. Through Powerful Conversations, they develop openness, honesty, and clarity in order to get others to believe and share in their goals, to gain commitments, and to foster trust. And they prove they are worthy of that trust by delivering on their own commitments and by making results happen.

The link between Powerful Conversations and High-Impact Leaders lies in the relationship between two concepts I refer to as Say and Do. I have seen people skilled at the art of Powerful Conversations nevertheless fail as leaders because they fail to live up to their words. As a result, they never become High-Impact Leaders. I have never known a High-Impact Leader, however, who was not also skilled at Powerful Conversations, whether conscious of that designation or not. To be a High-Impact Leader, you have to be able to conduct Powerful Conversations on a consistent basis and live up to the outcomes of those conversations. Why is this important? It has to do with trust—without which conversations cannot progress toward the realization of commitments.

One of the most important functions of a Powerful Conversation is to create clarity, a critical success factor for building trust. I cannot tell you how frequently I have been involved in situations in which a leader, reflecting on problems that have arisen, says, “I can’t believe they thought I meant that. I never had any intention of doing that.” And the followers say something like, “It’s unbelievable. Our leader made a clear commitment to do this and now denies it was ever part of the agenda.” Both sides shake their heads. Barriers go up. Trust is reduced or nonexistent.

True clarity implies that a leader says exactly what he or she means in such a way that his or her statements are received as intended. This requires openness, honesty, and an active and careful tracking of wants, needs, and commitments. It furthermore requires that those clear statements be lived up to with demonstrated actions built on organizational trust.

High-Impact Leaders today lead in a better way because they recognize that the shortest path to achieving objectives is to build trust and gain clear commitments from others. Specifically, they engage in Powerful Conversations to uncover the wants and needs of others in order to understand what will motivate those people to join forces with the leader and live up to the commitments of a conversation. They skillfully orchestrate the Powerful Conversations in which they engage to make clear all parties understand the exact commitments that have been made. Then they check into those commitments and make sure through follow-up conversations that the commitments can be kept. They track the wants and needs of others and find ways to reinforce their own desire to understand the wants and needs of others, often through continued follow-up conversations. High-Impact Leaders do these things because they know that trust must exist if the leader is to achieve his or her agenda through Powerful Conversations to create positive outcomes for their teams and stakeholders.

by Phil Harkins

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6 Changes You Can Make to Your Morning Routine That’ll Start Your Day Off on a Better Note

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By Rachel Grumman Bender of LearnVest

Even if you pop out of bed with every intention of having a productive day, it’s easy to get derailed.

Let’s be honest—who hasn’t gotten sidetracked first thing in the morning checking social media or reading up on what everyone thought of last night’s Walking Dead episode?

Here’s the thing: How you kick off your morning can set the tone—and momentum—for getting things done throughout the day.

So we’ve rounded up six quick (because we know how important getting enough shut-eye is, too) and easy ways to jump-start your morning with power and purpose to set yourself up for a killer productive day.


Power Morning Move #1: Fit In a Seven-Minute Workout

While we know it’s easier said than done to roll out of bed as the sun is coming up, budgeting some extra time to exercise in the AM can help give you lasting energy for the entire day.

Research shows that fitting in a workout helps improve mental functioning and memory—helping to make you more productive.

And did we mention it can also help keep you trim? A 2013 study found that working out before breakfast helps burn 20% more body fat than if you schedule a workout later in the day.

The Morning Move

Check out The New York Times’ “The Scientific 7–Minute Workout,” an at-home routine that features 12 high-intensity interval-training moves that use just your body weight, a chair, and a wall.

There’s even an app for it so you can exercise anywhere, anytime—even in your pj’s.


Power Morning Move #2: Bliss Out With a Two-Minute Meditation

Convinced you don’t have the time or the discipline to meditate every day? Well, if you can spare 120 seconds, you do.

While that may not sound like much time, multiple studies have shown that even brief doses of meditation come with a slew of benefits that can boost your career—from making you cognitively sharper and more focused to improving decision-making.

The Morning Move

Zen Habits blogger and best-selling author Leo Babauta recommends sitting still and, for just two minutes, keeping your attention focused on your breath as it comes into your body and goes out.

“When your mind wanders, take note of that, but then gently come back to the breath,” Babauta has said. “That’s it—no mantra, no emptying of the mind, no perfect lotus position, no meditation hall or guru. Just pay attention to your breath.”

Babauta explains that these small bouts of meditation each morning can help you feel a bit calmer, less distracted, and less reactive during the day—especially when work stress creeps up on you.

Not bad for two minutes of your time, right?

Related: 5 Outside-the-Box Ways to Combat Work Stress That Really Work


Power Morning Move #3: Draft a Thoughtful Things-Not-To-Do List

We all have mile-long to-do lists that we semi-diligently try to tackle each day, but a surprising productivity secret is actually doing the opposite-thinking of things that, no matter how much you may want to do them, you can skip doing for 24 hours.

The Morning Move

Make a short anti-to-do list of typical time wasters you want to avoid that day, recommends Carson Tate, author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.

Maybe your list includes dodging unnecessary meetings or even limiting the amount of time you spend on that ultimate time waster—email!

While you probably can’t go email-free for too many hours of the day, Tate suggests at least not starting your day by checking email.

“It’s counterintuitive, but I always tell clients that emails in your inbox are everyone else’s agendas,” Tate says. “They represent what everyone wants from you—their goals and objectives. Why not start your day with your own goals and objectives?”

Related: Power Hack of the Week: How to Tackle To-Dos Like a President

Power Morning Move #4: Listen to a Power Podcast

The “5 AM Miracle” is a weekly podcast that’s dedicated to “dominating your day” before breakfast by focusing on healthy habits, personal development, and productivity.

“Waking up with intention, with a plan and with a solidified purpose can make a dramatic difference, not only in your day but more importantly in your future success,” host Jeff Sanders notes.

The Morning Move

Tune in to a new podcast once a week or download one of the 100-plus shows from the archive.

Sanders and guests cover an array of topics geared toward becoming more efficient and productive, such as “How to Create Your Ideal Morning Routine,” “A Sharper Perspective on Getting Things Done” and “The Definitive Guide to Inbox Zero.”


Power Morning Move #5: Do the Dishes (Yes, You Heard Right!)

Rolling up your sleeves to hand wash a sink full of dirty dishes from last night’s dinner may be the last thing you want to do first thing in the morning, but a recent study found that mindfully cleaning dishes—in other words, staying in the moment while scrubbing away—reduced anxiety and made study subjects feel more inspired.

Who doesn’t want to kick off their day this way? But in order to truly reap the benefits, you have to do it right.

The Morning Move

Buddhist monk “Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that, while washing dishes, we should only pay attention to the experience of washing dishes and attend to the full sensory experience—the warmth of the water, the scent of the soap, the texture of each dish or utensil,” explains the study’s lead author, Adam Hanley.

Hanley chose to study dishwashing because it’s such a common task and so sensory-rich—and subsequently found that study participants who mindfully washed dishes reported a decrease in nervousness and a boost in inspiration.

Meanwhile, another group that simply washed dishes without practicing mindfulness didn’t experience any emotional changes—just clean plates.

Power Morning Move #6: Name Your Top Two Goals for the Day

We make choices all day long—from picking an outfit to deciding how to approach a major project at work.

The problem is that making one decision after another uses up mental energy, leading to what’s called “decision fatigue,” which means you may have already used up your best brainpower for the day by mulling over the options for your AM latte.

But there’s a way to combat decision fatigue—with one simple to-do.

The Morning Move

When you wake up and you’re at your freshest, “decide on the one or two things you want to accomplish,” Tate says, adding that even if you just spend a few minutes doing this, you’ve still prioritized your day.

And to help keep your decision-making sharper for longer, consider creating a morning routine that minimizes decision-making, such as eating the same breakfast each day.

“You don’t have to make grandiose, sweeping changes in your life,” she explains. “It can be really subtle, but you’ll see a pretty significant pop in productivity.”

6 Changes You Can Make to Your Morning Routine That’ll Start Your Day Off on a Better Note

How to Get What You Want at Work

TIME

Getting what you want is often exceedingly difficult. Everyone knows what it’s like to want something: a promotion at work, a date with your crush, an extension on That Impossible Problem Set, an expedited premiere date for Season 6 of Game of Thrones. But when it comes to actually asking for the things we desire, most of us hit a wall. We tend to succumb to stress, nerves, anxiety, or some terrifying combination of all three, in fear of being labeled as overly pushy or too demanding.

Asking for what you want is a crucial part of life, and the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

How to ask for what you want — and get it

According to Dan Johnston, the 25-year-old co-founder of online tutoring company InstaEDU, the most important element in successfully getting what you want is how you frame the question.

“Typically, you think…

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