There are many things that are essential to great leadership, but when there’s a people leadership problem it usually comes down to one (or more) of 4 areas—communication, clarity, context, and consistency. Let’s call these the 4 Cs of leadership.
What is a people leadership problem? The symptoms look like this:
- Low employee engagement
- High employee turnover
- Low employee NPS
- People being unclear about what’s expected of them and how they are measured
- Lack of clarity around the mission, vision, values, and goals of the company
- Goals not being met
- People rowing in different directions
- People not executing (this can have a variety of root causes, but people leadership is one of the biggest reasons people don’t execute)
The list can go on, but you get the idea.
The thing is, most leaders have good intentions, but they don’t have good habits for communication, consistency, clarity, and context. Especially in high-growth companies (less established, ever-evolving norms makes the 4 C’s a moving target), or in companies under incredible strain (like a global pandemic, which makes the 4Cs seem unimportant to the day’s emergency, but actually make them all the more important).
Here are a few tips for sharpening your 4C’s.
When I think about communication, of course I think about the style of communication and what is being communicated. But I also think about the communication framework. You want to communicate clearly. You want to communicate as transparently as possible. You want to communicate consistently, and that will come down to your framework.
Consider the style and substance of your communication, and also think about the frequency. What will you communicate, when, and how? There isn’t a wrong answer here as long as you are communicating well.
Maybe your style is informal. Maybe it’s ridiculously formal. Maybe you share data, maybe you share anniversaries and birthdays. Focus on the level of transparency and style, and then define your framework. Will you communicate in slack daily? Via email once a week? In recorded videos? Will you conduct an all-hands meeting weekly? Monthly? Quarterly? Define your communication cadence, and be consistent in executing it (see below).
And, bear in mind that today’s workers want more information, not less. They want to know what the company strategy and goals are, how the company is performing, what’s going well, and what isn’t.
So, it’s not enough to communicate, you have to be clear. I love the phrase “crisp and clear” to describe the type of clarity needed to lead an organization well.
People need to know what the vision is, what the strategy is, and what the goals are. They need to know what’s expected of them and how they will be measured. You must communicate with clarity. And it’s not set it and forget it. Clarity doesn’t just come from what you say and how you say it. It also comes from where and when you say it.
Say it in slack, say it in email, say it in person, put it on the wall. Be clear and make that clarity very visible.
Don’t communicate in ambiguity. Be direct, candid, honest, and open. Be crisp and clear in what and how you communicate.
Of all the C’s, this is the one that will make or break you. The definition of context is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.”
It’s not enough to say something. It’s not enough to say it clearly or consistently. As leaders we must provide context. We must provide the why. This is how we get people in the boat and lead them to all row in the same direction. This is how we win.
We win with context. Explain reasoning, and importance and how decisions came to be. Share the stories behind goals, strategies, decisions, policies, culture and everything else.
Be consistent in your messages. Be consistent in your operating framework. Be consistent in how and when you communicate. Be consistent in living your company values. Be consistent in your demeanor. Be consistent in how you tell people what you expect of them and how you manage them when they don’t meet expectations.
Basically, don’t change with the winds or your moods or the last trendy article you read. Be a consistent leader. Do what you say you will do, expect others to as well.
What to do next
Think about the 4Cs and assess yourself. How well are you doing? Ask your direct reports how you are doing, and ask them to assess themselves as well (the 4Cs apply to executives, leaders, and managers).
Then ask your staff how well you are doing at these things. Have them score how well your company is doing these 4 things on a scale of one to three. It doesn’t really matter how well you think you are doing, what matters is what your employees think.
Pat yourself on the back where you score well. And do the hard work to improve the areas you score poorly on. If you can nail the 4 C’s you will improve employee engagement, loyalty, productivity, performance, and culture. And that will ultimately lead to great results!