Good Poker players learn to spot other players' "tells", those (mostly) subconscious signals that we send out when we have a good or bad hand. Looking around the table in a certain way, fumbling with chips, and sighing are examples of common "tells". Learning to eliminate one's "tells" is an important skill in Poker and other games that require a degree of deception.
Do you (or does your leader) have "tells"?
I used to work for a great boss who had one. When she asked me if we could "chat" I always knew that something was wrong. But when she asked me if I had a minute or if we could "talk", I knew that the meeting would be positive. Worked like a charm and when I told her about it one day, she had no idea she was telegraphing the nature of her requests. She'd also drink a ton of coffee on the way to work and be so wired when she arrived that everyone would brace themselves for long lists of stuff to do. Empty travel mug in hand meant watch out! But LeAnne was an excellent leader.
For many, silence is a "tell". So many people have told me that when their boss goes silent, they know something bad is brewing. Doors closed? Uh-oh.
Leaders have a responsibility to communicate. This is not optional. Nature certainly loves a vacuum, and in the absence of their leader's voice, people will draw conclusions of their own. We've all seen this happen. Anyone who has had to dig his organization out of a hole created by secrecy at the top knows how difficult it can be. Morale is like an aircraft carrier; it takes time to turn it around. Don't go any farther down a path if the truth will surely require a 180.
Communication is not just talking; it's also listening. Want to engage key contributors? Discuss. Leaders should not strive to have the last word.
Abusing the authority that comes with a leadership position can take many forms, not the least of which is squelching healthy debate because it is uncomfortable. Have the courage to participate in conversations that challenge conventions. Stop a debate only when it becomes disrespectful or tangential.
Learn to be influential. There are millions of brilliant people who are not heard because of poor communication skills. If it is your responsibility to communicate, then work on it as you would any other critical job skill. Charm only goes so far – there are earnest techniques that can bring clarity to complex issues in the workplace and inspire others to higher levels of performance.