09/16/2014 01:12 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2014

Heard Though a Megaphone, Seen Through a Microscope

Do you remember your first job? Likely, it was in high school. Perhaps, there was some manual labor involved -- whether it was mowing lawns, waiting tables, or stocking shelves. Back then, like nearly everyone else, you started on the bottom of the ladder and worked you way up. Or, you found a new job opportunity and had to work your way up the ladder. The point is -- no one starts at the top!

In any discipline, employees work their way up to a leadership level -- gaining knowledge and experience along the way that helps them address and overcome challenges. As they ascend, they learn new skills and different methods of coping with new responsibilities. In fact, most leaders had to modify their behavior in order to reach the higher levels of the organizational hierarchy. They had to become more competitive, more authoritative, and more assertive. For entrepreneurs and leaders, this seems natural. Business is a tough enterprise. These behaviors -- competitiveness, assertiveness, decisiveness, and authority -- serve leaders well when dealing with the hyper competitive world of business.

But how does this behavior affect others' perception of leadership?

These specific traits which are useful to and coveted by leaders can be perceived in a negative way by their subordinates. Competitiveness can be viewed as blind ambition. Assertiveness and decisiveness can be seen as aggression. Demonstrating authority can be perceived as simply being domineering. In any organization were there is a hierarchy -- this is a common outcome. The people at the top of the hierarchy are often resented by the people on bottom of the hierarchy. Leaders often wonder, "Why?"

While it is important to understand why, it is more important to change this negative impression. If not, resentment and dissatisfaction will start to grow in your team. This negative energy is not conducive to productivity or to moving the business forward.

So, how do you start forming a more positive impression with your team?

First, understand your position. If you are in a leadership position, especially if you are a CEO or other C-level executive, you should recognize that the position wields a tremendous amount of power and influence. When the CEO speaks -- everyone listens. There is no need to raise your voice or to be aggressive in order to be heard by your team. They understand the natural hierarchy of a business and the weight of your words. What the leader says is what should be done. Your words are marching orders. Additionally, the team is aware of your every mood and action. No one else in the company, besides other C-level executives, wield that type of power.

It is as if you are being heard through a megaphone but seen through a microscope. Your actions are amplified by your leadership position.

Remember this phrase as you communicate with your team. You do not need to shout to make a point -- the title after your name does all the 'shouting' for you. If you do behave too assertively, you may leave the impression that you are strict and uncompromising, and that you do not care about your employees. Also, recognize that the team will be (at least subconsciously) attuned to your moods and your actions. For example, if you tell others that it is important to practice fiscal responsibility, but you do not follow your own advice -- your team will notice. And, if you frown upon gossip; be sure not to engage in it yourself. Otherwise, you will not be seen as trustworthy or dependable, and it will be challenging to motivate employees to follow your vision.

To avoid these damaging perceptions; follow some simple rules when communicating with your team.

  • Be clear. Make sure that you are transparent and intentional in your communication. Otherwise, an offhand remark might be taken as a mandate. A team member may start working on an idea you presented, but it was in the not in the manner which you intended. Be aware that your words carry weight. Be as clear as possible when communicating with the team.
  • Know to whom you are speaking. Team members may respond differently depending on the style of communication used. Some employees prefer communication that is short and to the point, while others might need a more thorough explanation. A good way to maximize your communication and to ensure that you are clearly heard is to have each team member complete a personality profile assessment.
  • Follow up. In order to truly ensure that you are understood, you should follow up with any directives you give or tasks which you delegate. It is essential to close the feedback loop to ensure that your team is not veering off the intended path.

Remember -- perceptions and impressions count a lot in business. All business, internal and external, is about people and relationships. To maximize your team's effectiveness and achieve true leverage in your business, make sure the impression that you are giving is one of a clear, effective communicator. Not only will this improve how your team reacts to you, but will propel your business toward achieving success.

Alex & Cadey Charfen are the Co-Founders of the Charfen Institute.