Around the world there are leaders who are intentionally or unknowingly relying upon their psychic abilities and those of their employees to relay important information with disastrous results. The results of failed telepathy range from massive product recalls, failed change initiatives, to unengaged employees. Humor aside, the lack of information and assumptions made by leaders regarding things as broad as their vision to as specific as individual performance expectations leads to big problems that are easily avoided.
One of the most important behaviors that a leader can exhibit is explicit verbal communication. Sadly a majority of leaders make assumptions that employees know what they are thinking. What causes this to happen? Effective communication is a fundamental skill that every good leader has…right? More than likely the issue is less about the ability to effectively communicate but about assumptions and other underlying causes.
I spent some time in the Skyline Group Leadership Laboratory to uncover what I think are some of the significant underlying issues that prevent leaders from effective explicit communication:
1. Too much internal processing. You, the leader are marinating 24/7 in the problems and potential solutions facing the team, organization, and company. The culprit that leads to poor communication is that you have spent too much time internally considering these topics to a point where it is assumed that others are on the same page.
Solution: First don’t assume that others know what you are thinking. Second, get ideas out of your head sooner than later and on the table to share with others.
2. You assume that others will communicate for you. How many times have you attended meetings where you shared information with direct reports with the intent that they share with others outside of the meeting only to learn weeks down the line that the information never made it out of the meeting room? It is one thing to communicate something and it is another thing to make sure that your information is effectively being passed down to those who need it. Communication “black holes” are easily created when you “the leader” communicate to your direct reports without explicitly directing your reports to communicate with their teams and confirming in follow up meetings that the communication has taken place.
Solution: To avoid communication black holes make explicit requests that information is shared and follow up with the individual(s) tasked with sharing that she has done so. If necessary, reinforce and align communications from your direct reports with your own communication.
3. You believe that others are on the same page and will ask questions to confirm your thinking. You’re a leader and your team is composed of leaders. Of course everyone knows how to do his or her job. However, despite being leaders, the team is still composed of human beings and human beings like nature, abhor a vacuum. When there is a gap in information the human will fill the information vacuum with his or her own ideas, assumptions, and expectations. As a leader, you know that bad things can happen when people tasked with important responsibilities assume the wrong things. Additionally, people often will not ask clarifying questions either because they think they know what to do or because they do not want to loose face.
Solution: Be explicit with the people you are leading. Create room and an environment for asking questions by leading by example and asking questions. Provide positive reinforcement when people ask questions or request further detail.
4. Underestimating the desire of people to be led. As a leader your team and employees are eagerly looking to you for definitive guidance and direction. People want to be a part of something larger then themselves and your role as the leader is to set that vision and provide guidance on how to make that happen. Making believers and empowering your team requires consistent and explicit communication of what you envision and what it will take to make the vision a reality.
Solution: Be the leader you admire. As a leader of others you have the privilege of leading others. Share your vision and the specifics of how others play a role in making that vision a reality.
5. Laziness. An underlying and frustratingly simple cause of communication lapses is laziness. Whether it is failure to prioritize all hands meetings with employees or not bothering to fill in and share details with the executive team, laziness is often the failed communication culprit.
Solution: Create a communication strategy that includes company / organization, team, and individual communication timing and schedule. One great technique employed by more than one leader to connect with her employees is a daily email that includes a range of topics from company news, to recognizing an employee, to a fun video. Plan the time, make the effort, and see results.
Avoiding these communication pitfalls and following these simple steps can avoid relying upon the psychic abilities of your employees and increase company performance. Are there other communication pitfalls that you know of that lead to attempts at telepathic leadership?