Anyone who reaches the top of the corporate ladder is inherently less interactive with the rungs below. As your role changes, your level of responsibility increases but your oversight doesn’t become broader. You naturally leave more day to day operations up to the competent managers that are operating in lower departments. This is the way of corporate structure and it makes sense from an organizational point of view as well as from a tactical point of view.
If a top tier leader is bogged down in day to day logistics, their time and energy is used up and can’t be focused on the responsibilities of the position they currently hold. In short, the concept of the leader being less interactive with lower rungs is a good one. In reality, it’s a tinderbox with nullifying ramifications.
What is Leadership, Really?
You already know what a leader is. You are one. You’ve arrived in this position because you know how to get others to do what needs to be done. Your superiors recognized that quality in you and gave you the promotion you so richly deserved. The leader forges ahead, goal in mind, and the rest of the team follows behind doing what the leader tells them to do.
So being a leader involves having a team. Without the team, the leader is just a driven individual going along a path. Without a team, the leader has to do everything herself, since there’s no one to delegate to. Without a goal, the leader isn’t leading to any goal in particular. You’re just wandering around with a group of people wondering what it’s all about. So leadership involves the leader, the team and a goal. Without all three of these components, the leader isn’t a leader at all. This is the first reason why it’s so important to have leadership communication skills:
1. Your Team Needs to Stay Behind You
You’ve already got the goal part figured out. You deeply understand your organization’s goals; further, you know how to get there. Now it’s just a matter of keeping that team behind you so you can implement the steps your team needs to take. Keeping the team behind you isn’t about keeping born leaders down so you can be “queen of the mountain.” It’s about keeping your team on your side. This is no small task for a busy leader. In short, you need eyes in the back of your head.
As you’re looking forward to the future, you need to keep looking back to make sure your team is good. Have you ever been in your car, leading a friend in her car, to a destination she doesn’t know? If you go too fast and run too many yellow lights, your friend can’t stay behind you. You look in your rearview mirror and say, “Where’d she go?” This is why you need to keep your team behind you. You do this using your leadership communication skills by:
- keeping your team informed – what is the goal and what is the path to get there?
- keeping them motivated – reward achievements, offer benefits that they value, like flex time, achievement bonuses, public recognition, etc.
- making them feel valued – every team member serves a purpose; don’t forget to let individuals know their value to the rest of the team.
2. You Need to Stay Informed
As you rise to the top it’s easy to become less “in the loop” than you were before. News that circulates around the “bull pen” won’t necessarily reach your ears, especially if it has any kind of negativity associated with it. Once you move up, your former colleagues don’t view you as “one of them.” You’ll be seen almost as an outsider. And being an outsider means you can’t be trusted with inside information.
Now, all this sounds ominous and very Lord of the Rings, but it is a common dynamic, nevertheless. There is a danger of not being informed enough to do your job, or to keep the organization out of jeopardy when this occurs. Yet part of your job as a leader is to stay informed. This is the second biggest reason why leadership communication skills are important.
When you isolate yourself, lose tough with former colleagues or fail to be seen for days because you’re cloistered in your office, you run the risk of being kept out of the loop of important information. Even small things can have a huge impact on your effectiveness and the health of the organization.
For instance, if you’re connected, you’ll learn about an employee’s new engagement on the day it happened. A smart leader can see into the future and plan for the day three months from now when that employee asks for time off to go on their honeymoon. A disconnected leader learns of the request for time off just two weeks before, during an awkward meeting with the HR department. The employee may never feel comfortable sharing their news with a disconnected leader. In this scenario, there’s little time for figuring out to cover the employee’s absence.
Staying informed as a leader also gives you the advantage of recognizing shifts in corporate dynamics on a grassroots level. You’ve probably witnessed the phenomenon of visiting an old department and finding it unrecognizable. The people are different, they interact differently with each other and they even do things differently. Departments are like baseball teams. They shift personalities every time a new player is added or one leaves. Departments are dynamic. It’s not enough to know the processes. If you want to understand the dynamics of the departments below you, you have to stay connected to the people working in them.
3. You Need to Remain Purposeful
Finally, it’s important to stay connected as a leader for your own sake. Great leaders know that you need to remain purposeful in your career in order to stay engaged and effective. Career burnout is real and it is dangerous. When you reach the top echelon of your career, the heady feeling of “having arrived” doesn’t last forever. You need to always remember where you came from in the company, why you stayed, and what it’s all for.
Everyone needs a reason to get up and go to work everyday and money is a poor motivator when you already have enough of it. Staying connected as a leader helps you a deeper sense of purpose everyday. It may just be a collection of simple interactions that add up to a good day, or it may be something big you were able to accomplish because you worked one-on-one with a colleague. These are the daily interactions that give your career purpose; they are the daily spots of light that help you remember why you chose this path to begin with.
It’s all too easy to become disconnected when you reach the top. You’ve got the corner office (or almost), you’ve moved to a new floor, and you no longer need to interact with half the people you did before. Then you start to see new faces in the hallway and you vaguely wonder who are they, and who hired them, but you don’t ask because it’s nothing to do with you. Well, now you see that it does have to do with you. Reach out. Say hello to newcomers, no matter how small their cog is in the big machine. Stay connected as a leader so you can be a better one.