As I grew into leadership roles in my own career, I saw that leaders spent most of their time communicating with others, and hence communication becomes an essential skill to master. Personally, I have come a long way with my communication skills, considering what a noob I was when I started working professionally in 2005. Yet I know I have a long way to go before I consider myself a good communicator.
As a tech leader, I saw myself interacting with two very different groups of people. On the one hand, there were technical people using very analytical, math based and technical language. And on the other side of the spectrum there were people using the language of economics and business. My job involved translating between these two groups of people. You not only need to speak both languages, but also understand both cultures, which can be as different as day and light.
You can’t be a great leader without being a great communicator, which is different from being a great speaker. Good communication might involve speaking and writing, but it is so much more than that. Good communication is about getting the message across, to not just the ears abut also to the hearts of your audience. Great communicators have the ability to connect with listener’s passions and emotions while communicating their ideas.
Below are 6 timeless lessons I have learned about communicating better as a tech and product leader :-
- Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with the results. Telling people how to do something is very disempowering, while giving them freedom builds trust and brings long term value. You have hired good people, now let them figure out how to do what you want done. Very soon you will realise that they can use their creativity to solve problems more effectively than you imagined.
- Adapt your communication to suit the audience. It is important to communicate with people in their own language. Don’t just present your data when you go into a meeting. Translate that data and communicate what it means to the audience. Talk about the impact it might have on the metrics that the audience cares about.
- Represent the point of view of those not in the room. Make sure to think of, and from the point of view of, all stakeholders before coming to conclusions and making decisions. It is important to speak up for those who are missing in a meeting but are important stakeholders.
- Listen and Teach. Listen first, to understand not just what others are saying but also how important it is to them. Go beyond the spoken words and look for people’s emotions and ambitions behind what they are talking about. Once you have established a connection by listening empathetically, only then share your point of view. Part of the job of a tech / product leader is to form relationships and teach others about the technology / product side of things. This (building relationships) often takes a long time but it is worth it in the long term.
- Learn to ask the right questions, and then shut up and listen. Asking powerful questions that make people think is an important skill to master for any leader. A powerful question is one which makes the other person think about something which they would’t have otherwise. The answers to such questions often reveals something deep which usually hides below the surface.
- Storytelling is the most effective way to get a message across. If you are in an influential position, your communication can easily sound like preaching. You can avoid that by delivering stories in an impactful way. Create and keep a stories database, and in the right moments, use one of your stories to convey your message.
When you communicate with authenticity and transparency, it builds respect and trust with everyone involved. The job of a tech leader is like building bridges between different departments and cultures. When you understand both sides and can communicate empathetically, the gap closes and both sides come closer. This creates a solid foundation for others in the organisation to reach their potential.