Judgement, influence and communication – three core management skills that are essential tools for today’s business leader.
As managing companies becomes more complex with their growth in size and business diversity, Hsieh Tsun-yan, a leading management consultant with 30 years’ experience in the business world, believes that mastering the art of Management Communication is critical to business success.
With this in mind, Hsieh has led the development of a new course on the subject, introduced for the first time as a required module for the 2013 intake of the NUS Business School MBA programme.
Rather than communicating to sell or negotiate contracts, management communication focuses on dialogue between colleagues in an organisational setting, he says.
Hsieh, a former senior director with McKinsey and member of NUS Business School’s management advisory board, says that success in today’s business world depends on having skills in effective management communication that are the foundation of influential leaders.
Management communication, Hsieh says, “is very much in the moment.”
“Typically it also happens under pressure and there is a premium on judgment. So, it is really a subset of communication that makes or breaks relationships as well as being about getting things done.”
Being clear about what you want other people to think at the end of a meeting is very important
The ability to influence is about being able to produce an effect without the use of force or relying on command or status, he says. Regardless of an individual’s position or seniority therefore, “influential leadership is about how to make things happen that otherwise would not have happened.”
Successful leaders then are not those who do well in and of themselves alone, but rather they are individuals able to shape the destiny of their organisation and able to get people excited to go after it together.
With that perspective, the course sets out with the view that there is already a leader in every business executive. The challenge is to help the individual discover and unleash it to the best effect.
A central focus of the training is on approaching and handling difficult conversations – dialogues that often occur in the context of corporate restructurings or other times of disruptive change.
‘Can do better’
Many younger executives, Hsieh says, fail to account for human dynamism and the interactivity of communication, asserting their own views while ignoring or overlooking the other parties’ views, feelings and motivations.
Rather than going in blind, the important thing is to plan beforehand and think about the desired outcomes, both in terms of the task ahead and the leader’s relationship with those involved.
Difficult conversations often involve having to share bad news, but Hsieh says leaders need to take time to think about the way this is presented and handled.
“For example, he can say ‘I am here for you, I believe you can do better’. How might you say that? When would you say that so that it is believable and heartfelt?”
By planning the meeting the manager need not be overwhelmed with the daunting feeling of having to confront a negative conversation and can think about what else they would like to see in the relationship.
For Hsieh, the essence of management communication comes down to three key words: think, feel and do – each of them critical components of effective communicators and influencers.
In their busy business lives, he says, many leaders rush from meeting to meeting and do not give themselves the chance to gather their thoughts on what they want each meeting or dialogue to come up with.
“What would you like the other person to think? Do you want him to think that your position is final? Or that you are pretty firm, but that no good offer is refused? It could be a very big missed opportunity,” he says.
“Being clear about what you want other people to think at the end of a meeting is very important.”
That’s important not just in terms of what the other party thinks about the task in question, but also on what Hsieh calls “softer” issues – whether or not they come out of the discussion thinking that they have their leader’s support and backing.
While those might be called “softer” topics, Hsieh says that they are also often the hardest to repair if broken.
In Management Communication, he says, feeling is what ultimately will govern the trust, confidence and sense of security that the leader wants the other party to experience.
“The best people I have worked with had tough messages for the other party and had the other person come out feeling confident, feeling affirmed as an individual.”
That kind of outcome can only be achieved if you plan ahead, he says.
Younger executives often think that the job is done by presenting their view and analysis – often in the form of a slick, carefully-crafted Powerpoint presentation. But, says Hsieh, they often fail at the final hurdle because they forget to set down what they want the other party to do coming out of the meeting.
The result is that they are often shocked that nothing happens afterwards and they have to call another meeting to ask why nothing has happened.
Having an objective on what you want people to do might sound simple or even obvious advice, says Hsieh, but to many leaders it’s quite alien.
A key skill, he says, is judgement – something that gets better with experience, but which also requires confidence.
“Especially at the beginning of a young person’s career confidence is the biggest enemy. Often younger associates get the first instinct correct, they were on the right track, but they talk themselves out of it because they were not confident.”
Nonetheless, Hsieh says, learning from experience and having the confidence to apply and express your judgement is a crucial foundation to being an influential communicator and leader.
“If you made the wrong judgment about the situation, you cannot define the objectives in terms of the outcomes you are looking for, so you cannot exercise the right kind of influence to achieve those outcomes.
“It is very important to get the judgment right on what are the critical issues that you are having to wrestle with and selecting the right path to achieve an outcome that will be satisfying.”