Leaders build trust when they communicate information timely and respect privacy. When any decision impacts the team, the longer it takes to announce it with plans, the less trust your team has for you. As a leader, delays in sharing crucial information can create low confidence in the team and encourage assumptions to take hold of worker imagination. That’s why sending updates consistently will prevent rumors and toxic energy from forming in a workplace.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Angel Mary.

Angel Mary is a motivational leadership speaker and the CEO of Star Trak Investments LLC. Angel Mary has spanned her career through various sectors such as government, finance, food service, real estate, and finally healthcare, where she fast-tracked climbing the corporate ladder from entry-level to C-Suite in under 5 years. As a senior leader implementing strategic change initiatives enterprise-wide, Angel seeks to bridge the gap between the people and the processes needed to success. Motivated to share her success and challenges through her career, Angel also started the Career Path Angel Show, an inspiring podcast dedicated to sharing diverse experiences, tips, and lessons for the next generation of young professionals as they decide on their own future career moves.

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

The first time I realized I love strategic leadership operations was when the hospital tasked my department to create a workflow to convert antiquated paper medical records into scanned electronic medical records. The brainstorming sessions our boss pulled us into to pick our brains as a team was truly exhilarating. Until that moment, I was doing transactional work. But during this meeting, I and other colleagues needed to problem solve a high level multi department issue and document that into an official workflow. Our brainstorming sessions were so fruitful and engaging, I hardly noticed 3 hours went by in our initial pow-wow. After documenting it all, and implementing successfully, our project procedures became best practices in the health system and replicated by dozens of hospitals. Being a part of this initial project years ago was not only a proud moment, but also one where I recognized my innate desire to work in strategic leadership and change management.

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

People can really make or break the job! One of the hardest decisions I had to make was when I walked away from working in a well paying and highly visible position as a contract specialist. The work was so meaningful to me since I was able to work with CEOs as well as administrators. It gave me exposure to work that not only pushed me to hone my skills further, but also to understand a whole sector of the population being served by the non-profit sector. Homelessness was being solved by the funds I was writing the contracts up for and I found meaning in the work. But ultimately a toxic manager destroyed the dream to work in the position long term. Until that point, I did not realize how important it was for me to have a supportive manager. It led me to scrutinize my own leadership skills and ensure I never give off the same negativity to my team that I experienced myself.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

Communication is an art form. It requires consistent attention and finesse. Most leaders are often in the position where they need to introduce new projects and initiatives. The truth is there is no one size fits all approach to sharing communication. The right way to adapt is to ensure the right information is shared timely with the people it matters to most. For example, I had an employee who was highly anxious of changes in the department. Any time a huge new sweeping change would occur, before I would announce it to the whole department, I would pull this employee aside and reveal and reassure them of the changes. By doing this one action, I was able to prevent the department meeting later from becoming a negative discourse. This neutralized the employee who often is the loudest negative voice and it allowed me to manage the messaging for the rest of the team.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?

Clear defined roles are integral for your teams to be successful. Any time I had a new member join, I make sure to put time on my calendar to not only introduce myself, but also share the objectives of the companies and goals of the department. Once I moved into more senior roles, I trained my mid-level managers to do the same. We are not managing robots but people. It is important to have a personable relationship with your team to ensure you have the open door policy in place for them to feel comfortable coming immediately with any issues as they arise. Having the door open, and with no punitive actions for revealing concerns, allows for a more transparent work environment where employees feel engaged and supported.

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

An important lesson for any leader coming over a team of people is to readdress expectations. In one of my first management positions, an employee who often shirked responsibilities made teamwork nearly impossible for the rest of the group. When I pulled the employee in, I started by giving a formal warning before asking if they were aware of the expectations. The employee promptly went to HR and complained they were never formally told of the expectations. After reassessing, I realized it was my fault for not setting the stage of expectation from the moment I walked in the door. After that, I always set expectation meetings early on to ensure everyone is on the same page.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

Building trust is the most important part of becoming a leader. If your team does not trust you to lead and protect them, they will be less likely to take your direction and input or even respect you. The ways to build trust include scheduling one on one times with your direct reports, reviewing the expectations of task and areas where you can provide support, and keeping your word. There is nothing worse than making a promise and not delivering. Employees are not forgiving and do not forget if they were forgotten or led astray. That’s why having the desire to see your team do just as well as you do is important. Leadership is about inspiring others to WANT to follow your lead. That begins with relationship building and trust.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce? Please share a story or example for each of you can.

1 . Set Clear Expectations!

Your ability to ensure that your team understands their roles, what is expected from them, who their contacts are, how much they should be contributing, and what the goals are for the company is all on your shoulders. If you are the captain of a ship, you ensure everyone on the ship knows what part they play in the big picture or else your ship will sink! Likewise, your ability to clarify your expectations to your teams is extremely important. Otherwise you may waste resources when multiple people are working on the same project creating redundancies.

2 . Put Weekly 1:1s on your calendar.

Understanding the pulse of your people is up to you. Just as important as it is to have a meeting with everyone to set expectations and status, it is imperative to have 1:1 meetings with your managers and direct reports. Why? The truth about leadership communication is that often we need to be listening actively to steer our people in the right direction. Having a positive push from the boss is often enough encouragement to keep an employee engaged. Likewise, being ignored for your efforts can eventually lead to your best employees leaving for recognition elsewhere.

3 . Find Ways to Build Community Virtually and/or In Person

Fostering a relationship building positive environment is a leader’s responsibility. Find ways to keep your team engaged outside just the work. Some leaders take their team out for lunch. Others are virtual and too far for meals together so they do fun teambuilding type games. Some offices have a friendly competition between departments on positive habit building initiatives. For example, I recall when working at the hospital having an interdepartmental pedometer challenge. Not only did the teams have some friendly competitive spirit, but boosting exercise and wellness helped individuals build up their own health profiles. Do not underestimate the benefits of teambuilding. These types of non-work activities that encourage team unity carries over into the workplace as well.

4 . Communicate Timely

Leaders build trust when they communicate information timely and respect privacy. When any decision impacts the team, the longer it takes to announce it with plans, the less trust your team has for you. As a leader, delays in sharing crucial information can create low confidence in the team and encourage assumptions to take hold of worker imagination. That’s why sending updates consistently will prevent rumors and toxic energy from forming in a workplace.

5 . Make it a priority to share success

The new world of remote work means we need to make a real effort to share team successes. It drives the point home of the relevancy of putting on the calendar and success meeting. This means changing the culture to celebrate projects moving forward or special efforts made to win new business or build stakeholder relationships. Ideally putting these on the calendar early to mid-week will propel the team forward to the end of the week.

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competing for attention?

Great leaders who are effective communicators know they need to be focused on times without interruption.

The good strategy is to move away from distractions. Keep your focus on the only project you are working on. Schedule and block out your calendar for time for work that needs to be completed. In the office, this also means closing the door to your office or putting up a do not disturb sign so people know you are not available as well. Clearing yourself from being available helps you stay focused. This requires a little preparation and planning, but your productivity will increase. Once you sit down and begin, be sure to silence those notifications on your phone too.

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

A big part of being an effective communicator is understanding how to talk in front of large groups. It can absolutely paralyze individuals who are extremely articulate but have a fear of public speaking. Practicing in front of groups regularly is a great way to hone this skill. I highly recommend professional speaking clubs like Toastmasters International where you can practice and train before you need to give presentations at your company.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

After the pandemic, people have become far more isolated. The lack of interaction has created a lot of anxiety in people around the world. It would be amazing to have a wellness movement connecting people around the world, so their loneliness and isolation is minimized. Most people want to engage with others but lack the confidence to do it. If we can all work to step outside our comfort zones to reach out to one another, I believe the world can become a better place.

How can our readers stay connected with you?

Tune in to one of the following podcast players (Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, iheartRadio, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or Audible) to listen to the Career Path Angel Show podcast where I both interview and also do solo discussions on all topics related to business and career. You can also follow me on Linkedin, Instagram and Tiktok @CareerPathAngel.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.