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If You Really Want Your Team to Hear You, Listen

When a leader communicates clearly to employees, everyone from research and development to sales and marketing understands the same vision and the same values of the organization’s culture.

by Mark Lanfear
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Living in Detroit, I get to watch a lot of sports teams play. Some consider this one of the best sports cities in America, thanks to the perennial success of some of the professional teams. Plus, there are great university teams within an hour and a half of where I live. Every sports enthusiast should be so lucky.

It’s safe to say that beyond pure athletic ability, great teams master the fine art of communication. Smart coaches lay down clear missions and game plans and then players execute them to a “T,” even in the heat of competition. They can do this because they know they can rely on and trust each other. It may appear to us fans to be intuitive, but communicating meaningfully doesn’t just happen. It takes work and practice.

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It’s no different in the life sciences arenas we play in, is it? Think about it—when a leader communicates clearly to employees, everyone from research and development to sales and marketing understands the same vision and the same values of the organization’s culture. As leaders, we find ourselves “out in the field” trying to inspire our teams toward important shared goals. Establishing a good verbal rapport with your team is a journey you must take to motivate them.

Truly effective leaders are those who have a vision their people want to follow. They articulate and share their vision through daily interactions, constantly working on their interpersonal skills to build trust and reinforce their message and direction.

Leaders also get results from their teams through engagement. The goal is to get teams moving in the right direction—and success or failure often depends on a leader’s ability to communicate with everyone in an organization. It’s a challenge in any business setting, but perhaps even more so in the life sciences world—it’s easy to focus on the work and research but lose sight of the need to interact positively to do your job to the best of your abilities.

Where does team communication face its biggest tests? From what I see, it’s in meeting rooms, where all these same principles need to be amplified. It’s critically important to:

  • Make our objectives clear
  • Invite for the specific objective: include the people we need in order to reach the meeting goal (having the right players on the field for that play)
  • Stick to the plan! (that’s the schedule, agenda, and timeframe)

And equally important to not:

  • Use meetings to fill hours
  • Let them kill productivity
  • Drone on or allow them to be “hijacked” by someone else’s agenda, leaving everyone wondering, “Why am I here?”

Good leaders know this. When the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey gave us the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, number five was “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It refers to honing your skills as a listener to truly hear what the other person is saying, and not automatically filter it through your own experience. I believe the ability to listen this way, asking for and encouraging feedback, is the mark of a successful leader, not just someone who gives orders.

But ultimately, feedback is only good if you act on it. Remember to take every opportunity to learn and grow through the communication loop. It teaches us to respond to the needs of others in our organization. And if great teams act on what everyone is sharing, it will no doubt lead to better results. It only makes sense that by listening to all perspectives and taking the information in, we’ll be equipped to make better decisions for the future.

To build rapport and trust, try getting face-to-face with your people whenever possible. Utilize all the tools at your disposal to strengthen relationships, even electronically. Using Skype™ or FaceTime to get actual face time with employees in other locations is an excellent way to make technology work for you.

As an example, today I started off my day by talking about some important issues relating to talent supply chain management with my colleague Anja in Belgium at 5 a.m., then discussed how that applies to lab and research workforces with a group of colleagues gathered in our London office at 8 a.m., and finished just in time to run down the stairs of our U.S. headquarters to make it to the conference room by 10 a.m. for the West Coast production review. Not a bad morning’s work, with the help of Skype. And I’m certain that being able to see each other’s expressions and reactions in all those meetings, as opposed to just hearing them over a loudspeaker, improved our dialogue greatly.

It’s not where you live, it’s what lives in you! That means that if good communication and team-building skills are inside of you, you will be successful around the globe. Please let me know what you think. Get in touch @MarkLanfear1.