This month I invited Kelly Blazek of Gemba Communications to be a guest writer and share her insights on leadership and communication with us from the perspective of a communication executive. Thanks Kelly!

We’ve all heard of leaders that people would follow into a burning building – earning loyalty and trust from their teams, who are ready to tackle any challenge or raise any bar with enthusiasm.   What are some of the communications traits that those inspiring leaders have in their back pocket?  Here are three for your own leadership toolbox that are easy to implement.

They Communicate What Good Looks Like.  Most all employees are motivated to deliver great performance – after all, it’s key to keeping their job.  Are you as a leader setting well-defined expectations, ensuring that deliverables are clearly outlined, and telling your teams what good looks like?  Concrete examples fill in the gaps, eliminate guesswork and allow your employees to more readily deliver what you’re looking for in the first place.  No one is particularly skilled at reading minds, and employees become quickly frustrated with cryptic requests – it starts to feel like you’re playing a power game with them:  “who can come the closest to figuring out what I want?”

And speaking of sharing helpful examples, are your own communications professional and without errors?  Memos, team e-mails and PowerPoint decks filled with typos, misspelled names and grammar errors send a message that you don’t particularly respect the audience that’s receiving your communications, and you can’t be bothered to go the extra mile for those that work for you.   Not a great example to set for your team, or your internal reputation as a polished executive.

Their Teams Expect Regular Communications   Smart leaders create a cadence of communications vehicles that share updates on financials, customers, quality, competitors and innovation on a regular basis – with a healthy dose of recognition for team and individual accomplishments.  Whether it’s an hour long meeting in a conference room, or a stand-up 10 minute status report (no PowerPoints, no sitting!), outstanding communicators bring their teams together regularly to learn, solve, praise and inform.

And by putting a regular emphasis on safety metrics and action plans for any required improvements, you are reinforcing that employee well-being is front and center in the company’s priorities.  Personal protection and ergonomics aren’t just for factories – I worked at an office where a colleague took an unfortunate tumble (which counted as a recordable incident) down the staircase because his hands were otherwise occupied holding coffee, a laptop, and meeting supplies, unable to hold onto the stair rail that would have prevented his using crutches for the next six weeks.

For site or plant leaders with hundreds of employees under their supervision, the practice of monthly birthday meetings means that everyone eventually gets some small group meeting time with the boss.  For example, all the September birthdays are invited to bagels and coffee, or a pizza lunch, to share feedback in a small group on what’s going well, and what roadblocks might be in the way of improving customer service.

Don’t forget agendas, distributed in advance.  They show respect for your subordinates’ time – you’ve planned out what you intend to cover, as opposed to winging it, and it allows your team to prepare in advance as well.

And whether on a conference call or a plant-wide meeting on the factory floor, find ways for your direct reports and hourly workforce (who aren’t too shy) to deliver some of the content.  Even a few minutes giving an update makes employees feel valued and recognized.  It creates a sense that deliverables and solutions belong to everyone, and that you view your employees’ input as critical to the success of the organization.

They Walk The Halls And The Production Line – Impromptu Communications Builds Credibility

In manufacturing, a gemba walk refers to a Japanese productivity tool where leaders get out of their office and onto the shop floor, following the production process from the raw material stage, to the manufacturing and assembly process, all the way to the shipping dock.  These leaders ask employees about quality, scrap, standard work and production roadblocks as they walk the line.  Gemba walks help support an engaged workforce, as employees see management coming to them for feedback and news, taking the time to learn their individual role in customer satisfaction and operational effectiveness.

For leaders in an office environment, take that gemba approach and be visible in the hallways.  Don’t be the boss famous for leaving every night by the back corridor so he or she won’t have to say a few “goodnights” to their team.  Roam the floors and buildings where your employees work, and get a cup of coffee from a different break room further away from your office.  Stop by a team meeting for a few minutes to learn how a project is going.  The spontaneous conversations that result will reveal customer issues that need solving, provide an opportunity for praise, and encourage sharing of your workforce’s family and personal interests.

Setting expectations, delivering regular communications, and maximizing informal opportunities to learn and interact….they are the building blocks of strong external customer relations that your organization is likely already implementing to remain competitive.  It’s no surprise that these same three practices, when focused on your employees, can help boost your internal relations and leadership reputation as well.

Kelly Blazek, Principal of Gemba Communications, is a senior communications executive with nearly three decades of experience in global diversified industrials, professional services, PR agencies and economic development nonprofits.  She brings significant manufacturing communications counsel from her time with GE, Eaton Corporation and Ingersoll Rand to global and mid-sized manufacturers in need of both strategy and execution regarding change management, operational efficiency and human capital initiatives.  She earned her Six Sigma Green Belt in January 2012 from the University of Akron, and is a communications graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  Website:  Contact: