The Wheel of Modern Leadership Part 2: Communication
In the second installment of The Wheel of Modern Leadership series, we continue to examine the timeless traits that form a foundation for contemporary leadership. As the Founder & President of FORTIS Resource Partners, a staffing firm that caters to a diverse range of industries, I am passionate about leadership and its many nuances. I also deeply empathize with anyone just starting out on their leadership journey—everybody is a work in progress, regardless of their experience level, and there are always opportunities to better yourself. Today, I want to share my thoughts on one of the most significant aspects of leadership, and the first spoke along the wheel: communication.
In my experience, communication is more than the mere exchange of words or information. It’s a multifaceted skill that involves active listening, understanding, and paying attention to subtle cues. The art of communication often goes beyond what is said and ventures into the territory of what is not said. This might seem puzzling at first, but over the course of this article, we’ll get to the bottom of it.
Listen Like You Mean It
Active listening is when you bring your whole self into a conversation, not just your ears. It includes picking up on cues of body language and sensing the undertones of what’s not being vocalized. As a leader, it’s crucial to read between the lines and to ask the question, “What is it that I’m not hearing?” Quite often, people will tell you what they think you want to hear, rather than what they genuinely feel. It’s your responsibility as a leader to parse out the truth while making people feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts.
There are times when you interact with someone who might say one thing while their body language or behavior suggests something else. It leaves you thinking there’s more to that story, prompting a curiosity to listen better or ask more probing questions next time. Such situations call for a keener sense of awareness and a more discerning ear. It’s about cultivating an environment where people feel free to communicate their thoughts and ideas without fear of judgment or backlash.
The Words You Don’t Say
Creating an open and transparent environment can be challenging. I admit that having a strong personality can sometimes unintentionally inhibit open communication. People can be shut down by authority, and as leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure that air of authority doesn’t become a communication barrier. This doesn’t mean diluting our command; rather, it’s about fostering a culture of trust and openness where everyone feels heard.
In my years of leadership, I’ve learned that communication is not merely about conveying messages effectively—it’s equally about creating the space for others to communicate their thoughts. A significant part of communication involves deciphering non-verbal cues. If you walk into an office and see personal photos facing you, that person is likely inviting conversation about their family and friends. But if the desk is clear, with no personal items on display, then it’s likely they prefer to keep things strictly professional. Every situation, every silence, every object can communicate a message (if we’re attuned to understanding it).
Communication can be compared to playing a piece of music. It’s not just about the notes you play, but also the silences between them. These pauses can be as loud—or even louder—than the notes themselves. The power of silence in a conversation can often say more than a thousand words. This idea underpins the concept of active listening: it’s about hearing the unspoken words in the silence and understanding what they’re trying to convey.
When I reflect on my communication journey, I recall situations where things didn’t go quite as planned. One example is when I encountered resistance, or what we call “stonewalling” in communication. This scenario usually occurs when the other person doesn’t contribute constructively to the conversation, and it tends to stagnate the communication flow. In these cases, it’s crucial to remain patient and understand the underlying reasons behind the resistance.
In my experience, every interaction is an opportunity to assess and enhance our communication. Recently, I had a call with a client who immediately put me on the defensive. It was as though I had invaded this person’s turf, and they did not hesitate to let me know by way of their tone and body language. Although it stung, it was a stark reminder that there is always room for improvement in our communication skills.
The Door Handle Ritual
One strategy I’ve found incredibly useful in fostering communication is what I call the “door handle ritual.” Every time I grasp a door handle to enter the next room, I remind myself to be present and attuned to the person or group I’m about to encounter. This simple ritual has had a profound impact on how I approach communication.
It sounds simplistic, but keeping this concept in mind provides you with a mental framework for being perpetually ready to communicate. It’s especially effective in our new world of remote work, where weeks can go by without interacting with a live person. Adding the door handle ritual to your communications tool belt can keep you from appearing shut-off or flat-footed when you encounter people after a long conversational drought. We must always be “on” as business leaders, and every little bit helps.
Communication: A Self-Assessment
In this modern age, where technology has transformed how we communicate, the art of conversation and the skill of active listening have become more important than ever. As leaders, we need to continually evolve and enhance our communication skills to ensure we’re not just heard, but also understood. As you continue throughout your workweek, take a moment to assess your own communication skills.
Keep in mind during your assessment that communication is not just about transmitting information. It’s about fostering an environment where open dialogue is encouraged and valued. It’s about understanding others and making them feel understood. After all, the greatest leaders are those who listen, understand, and act accordingly. As we continue on this journey through the Wheel of Modern Leadership, let’s strive to hone our communication skills. In the next installment, we’ll dive into the concept of relationship building. But until then, keep listening, keep learning, and keep leading.
You deserve a staffing partner who really listens. Get in touch with FORTIS Resource Partners and be heard today.