When You Are a Leader, There Are No Trivial Comments
Leaders are always on stage. Whether you are talking to employees, meeting with your C-suite, speaking to the media, or shaving a few strokes off your game, you are performing. As a leader, you don't get the luxury of throwaway remarks or inconsequential chitchat; the "mic" never turns off. This means you have to remain constantly aware of, and consistent in, your communications.
Awareness - It's Not All About You
Make sure you know who's in the room when you're speaking, and understand how your message might affect them. When you make a statement, it must plainly convey what you truly mean to say. It's not only your words that matter, but how you say them as well. Craig Weber, when asked about a Wall Street Journal article that discussed the appropriateness of swearing in the workplace, said:
Leaders must work with people who have radically different views of what is appropriate and effective. The question becomes: 'what context do we need to create so everyone can pull together and do good work? And what are the factors that can limit our ability to wholeheartedly pull everyone's experience, skills and abilities into the business?
So while the occasional 4-letter-word may not be a big deal to you, it could have a negative effect on some others. While sarcasm doesn't seem hurtful to you, it can de-motivate people. Your words can create an environment that will pull your team together, or one that will limit their ability to participate fully.
As a leader, you have to be aware of this and make a conscious choice to use words and behaviors that inspire your team to do their best work.
Consistency - Let People Know What To Expect
Communication is so often dependent on moods and circumstances - our own and others. Consistency is a persistent challenge even, and especially, at the top, and contradictions in our actions and/or behaviors can create a host of problems in our organizations. Sending mixed messages is a real danger, and one that can undermine our leadership.
Years ago, I was accused - rightly - of being inconsistent. I was the picture of pleasant. I was really a nice guy. But meanwhile, I was unhappy with what was going on in the organization and pressure was building. All of a sudden, I would blow up. No one was spared. Then, with that off my chest, I would revert back to my mild manner of handling employees.
My advice: Don't do that! I'd rather work with someone who is difficult - consistently - than not know what to expect day-to-day, or minute-to-minute. If you're going to be a jerk, be a consistent jerk. At least people know what they're going to get. (Just a bit of sarcasm here!)
Your Best May Not Be Good Enough
By the time you get to be the leader of an organization, do you have all this communication stuff figured out? That depends on you and your experience. Most leaders don't. Consistent perfection is not attainable. As a leader, we must be aware, and consistent, in our communications and strive to improve with every conversation and every comment.