The Executive Edge (Communication)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Communication is one of those things that we all have to do in life, every single day.  What can differentiate successful executives from those who don’t make it to the top is the manner in which they approach the issue of communication.  Simply put, communication is a serious thing; it’s the difference between being understood and not being understood.  Skilled executives take it one step further, viewing communication as a tool to be completely understood.  That’s powerful stuff.

It’s no secret that failing to communicate well could result in everything from poor decisions to catastrophic misunderstandings, regardless of any good intentions along the way.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to communicate well (or even at all, in some cases), especially in a world of text messages and other informal interactions.  What’s more, many people just don’t realize how much poor communication not only increases risk, but also limits their potential to advance to more senior roles.

Experienced executives know that there are a number of skills that are crucial to achieve success in their role; everything from comprehensive reading to being consistently reliable, and having a great ability to communicate is no different.  Taking the initiative to understand and adopt these important skills can give you the Executive Edge; one that differentiates you from others in your peer group and generates better results today, while helping to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we have already considered the importance of comprehensive reading.  Here’s more about why good communication skills are so critical to success.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever tried to advance an initiative or workplace project with a group of co-workers that just doesn’t seem to be moving forward?  Staff members seem confused about what their responsibilities are.  Duplication of effort occurs, due to a lack of clarity over who is supposed to do what (and, after a while, no one seems to care).  Numerous meetings are held, but at the end of an hour or two, no one is quite sure what the next steps are.  Nothing seems to get done, and enthusiasm starts to fade.  Why does this happen?

Although this type of situation can arise due to a number of factors, one of the main problems is always communication.  This includes everything from having clear meeting agendas and discussion topics, to how the discussion process is managed, to meaningful documentation of decisions and next steps.  No wonder success can be so difficult to achieve.

But, consider this: every day, thousands of hours of staff and management time are wasted by working on initiatives that lack the clarity and communication to move forward.  As disturbing as this is, it’s also an opportunity for you to take a leadership role and cast some much needed light on the situation.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by taking a vow to always strive to be understood and invest in the necessary professional development, attention to detail, and practice to do so.  Once you do, not only will you develop important executive skills, you will also make a meaningful contribution to improve how your work environment functions (and, yes, results do matter).  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep it simple. Anyone can make something sound complicated; the real talent is in taking something that is complicated and making it understandable to others.  Any situation can be crystallized to a simple concept that others can easily absorb; you just have to find it.
  • Strive to be “crystal clear”. If you consciously focus on delivering your message in a manner that is as clear and understandable as possible, chances are, it will be sufficiently clear to others.  Sounds simple, but it works.
  • More isn’t always better. Rambling on and burying the point in volumes of peripheral information doesn’t enhance communication.  Use words carefully and weed out any unnecessary language that clutters the message.
  • Clean up writing skills. Be honest with yourself: many people would benefit from taking a business writing, grammar, or presentation course to improve their communication ability. Another option is to spend more time working with people who write well and volunteering to complete tasks that have a significant communication component (practice works!).
  • Document discussions, decisions, and next steps. Nobody enjoys taking meeting minutes, developing agendas, or updating project workplans; however, these are important components of the executive world and you need to be able to do these things well in order to move forward. So, raise your hand next time these types of tasks are up for grabs.
  • Keep it moving. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect of everything they do. Keep communication meaningful by making it practical and action oriented.

Keep it up and something strange might start to happen; some of your peer group may actually start to improve their communication skills as well.  Don’t believe it?  Well, you might just be surprised by what good communication can do.

The Executive Edge (Comprehensive Reading)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Ever wonder what it really takes to join the ranks of senior management?  Hard work, a strong level of technical or specialized knowledge, and the broad perspective to manage others all come to mind.  It’s not surprising that successful candidates often spend years completing professional designations and gaining particular on the job experience to help prepare them for roles at the senior or executive levels.

What might be surprising, however, are the fundamental skills that successful, top level people typically exhibit and consistently practice.  These skills are not characterized by complicated research, formulas, or complex business practices and are, in fact, much more simplistic than that.  These characteristics are more about the approach that the individual takes to fulfil their role on a personal level and are essential to generating a positive result.  Things like comprehensive reading, active listening, concise communication, and consistent reliability are all important skills that are typically exhibited by strong senior level managers.

Executives know that failing to do any of these things could result in poor decisions, at a minimum, as well as the real potential for crisis situations and more in the worst case.  Despite this reality, too many people in the business world fail to utilize these vital skills, especially those in the mid-ranks with expectations to progress further.  What these people don’t realize is how much a lack of attention to detail limits their progress in terms of advancement, and might even result in being labeled as not having the potential for more senior roles.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Instead, take the initiative to understand how executives approach their role and start to adopt these behaviors.  Practicing these skills consistently will not only differentiate you from others in your peer group and generate better results today, they will also help to prepare you for climbing the ladder tomorrow.  In this series, we will consider several skills that will help give you the Executive Edge.  Let’s get started with the first skill: comprehensive reading.

Where it Goes Wrong

Have you ever sent someone an email with what you thought were fairly straightforward instructions, only to receive a response that seemed completely out of left field?  “Did she even read my email?” you wonder.  “I went out of my way to make this so simple for him; how frustrating!” you complain.  Why does this happen?

Assuming that you did communicate your instructions in a clear and concise manner (we will get to that in a future article!), the bottom line is that too many people just don’t read!  Although they might have read carefully at the beginning, a common shortfall is to skim the rest, not paying attention to critical information or what was being asked in terms of response or “to do” items on their part.  Experienced executives know that this approach can actually be fatal.

Get the Executive Edge

Put yourself on the executive path by doing something really simple; just read (yes, all of it!).  The challenge of comprehensive reading often comes with doing it consistently and completely, but practicing this skill and using it without exception are critical for managing the risk levels of executive roles.

  • Don’t skim. Skilled executives read thoroughly, from the beginning of a document or email right to the end.  The challenge is to maintain focus in order to concentrate on what is being said, without any incorrect interpretations.
  • Don’t let your mind wander. If you feel this happening, stop reading, go back to the top of the last paragraph, and begin again.  If you pay conscious attention to not letting your mind wander, you will be surprised how quickly your attention level starts to decline.  This will happen less frequently if you practice.
  • Learn to absorb information quickly. Practice allows you to effectively open your mind and absorb new information quickly, but also thoroughly and completely. Skilled executives might look like they are skimming, due to the pace of their reading; but instead, they have practiced well to absorb information quickly.
  • Think about next steps. Executives are always thinking about the next steps or “so what?” aspect in relation to what they read. This approach makes written material more action oriented and keeps the “what is being asked of me?” question top of mind.
  • Appreciate the value of executive summary type documents. Given that executives do, in fact, read thoroughly, this increases of importance of concise documents, such as the executive summary.  Communications that focus on the core issues of a situation, decision points, and next steps are critical, as opposed to long winded documents that include unnecessary information or never get to the point.  Keeping this in mind when communicating with others actually helps to practice comprehensive reading skills.

Think it sounds easy?  Too easy to bother?  Now, that’s a mistake.  The reality is this: executive level issues and decisions are often based on complex information and situations.  In order to grasp the material, it takes practice to absorb it.  This is just another reason to start practicing now, while the stakes are certainly important, but are not quite so high.