If you are an entrepreneur, you are a leader. It doesn't matter how many staff you have.
Understand that, as a leader, your vision alone is not enough to get your team to walk the journey with you. They want to be walking with a leader they respect and trust. Your communication habits can make or break your reputation as an authentic leader worthy of fellowship.
Here I offer seven essential habits that help you build a solid reputation as an authentic leader.
1. Make them feel important
There is one innate desire in all of us, young and old. We all want to be acknowledged and understood regardless of differences in perspective and opinions.
Being able to give this to another person is the cornerstone of all masterful communicators. When your team member speaks, listen. Listen to understand, not just to respond. You don’t have to agree with everything they say. But acknowledging their point of view is acknowledging that they are an important part of the team.
You are never truly an empathetic leader until you can appreciate that another person’s perspective as valid in any given situation.
2. Own your message
If you ever thought of making your communication impactful, learn to use the “I” statement. Express your thoughts and emotions as you experienced it and not as how you think the other party intended it.
Instead of saying, “You are wrong,” say, “I disagree with you.” Instead of saying, “You are inconsiderate,” say, “What you did made me feel disrespected.”
You will be surprised how a simple change of language can bring about openness and honesty in the other party. Arguments happen only because parties involved didn't know how to communicate effectively. They want to be heard but don’t want to listen.
3. Acknowledge emotions without becoming emotional
There seems to be an unwritten consensus that being professional means leaving out emotions. This is the spark of all conflicts at the workplace.
The truth is, we are all emotional creatures. You cannot eradicate emotions at work. You can only suppress them. What gets suppressed only festers. Understand that you can acknowledge emotions, especially in conflict situations, without getting emotional.
Try telling the other person, “You seem frustrated about the situation.” You will notice an unexpectedly positive response from him. Instead of raising your voice, try telling your team, “I am angry and disappointed that the work took longer than it should.” Your team will respond in a much more honest and productive manner.
Nurturing the habit of stating emotions has a profoundly positive effect on team communications. It will rub off on your reputation.
4. Be respectful in any situation.
Some people think that you are never truly honest if you have to voice your opinion in a diplomatic way. They assume that being diplomatic means ignoring the emotions that are associated with strong opinions.
If you can express your emotions without being emotional, there is no reason why you need to vent your frustration or resort to sarcasm to get a strong message across. Be straightforward. Everybody wants to be with a leader who means exactly what he/she says.
There is no need for second-guessing. Let your interaction with others always be stress-free, even in sticky situations. Who wouldn't want to work with a leader like that?
5. Say No (the right way).
You are never truly in control of your life until you know how to say no. Most people don’t realise that there is a way to reject without causing offence in others or guilt in oneself. It’s an acquired skill.
When you can communicate a no the right way, you will start to reclaim your time, energy and sense of control. When you say no to things that don’t matter, your yesses will become more valuable to others.
6. Apologise quickly
Sorry is the hardest word to say because it comes with so much baggage. To many, apologising is a sign of weakness and guilt. It doesn't have to be. Knowing how to apologise is a sign of strength and humility. It makes you authentic.
Apologising also doesn't always mean you are in the wrong. When there is a misunderstanding, apologise for your part of the conflict. Maybe you made assumptions. Maybe you overreacted. The truth is, in any conflict, you had a part to play in it, even if it is the other party that was in the wrong.
Let your apology come quickly. The longer you wait, the bigger the conflict becomes in the minds of everyone involved. It only makes the apology ever more difficult to utter.
7. Always be in control of your story.
Don't allow negative team members change the narratives of your vision. If you do, they are the ones in control, not you.
Understand that as a leader you need to make sure everyone is in on your story, not theirs. Stories change because of office politics. Too many businesses have been destroyed because the business owners waited for the right time to weed out the bad hats in the team.
The right time is always now. Step in quickly. Make a firm request to everyone to get back on track. Too often leaders tell their teams what they don't want but never what they want. Specify the outcomes. Specify also the consequences of not giving what you want. Real leaders don't negotiate with players.
The authentic leader knows how to be tough and be human at the same time. As an entrepreneur, you have a vision, but you may not have all the answers. Convince your team to walk with you anyway. With masterful communication skills, you can.