“If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”
I am always on alert for positive and effective communication practices at work. After diligently observing the first few weeks of the 45th President’s administration, it seems like now is exactly the right time to talk about broken communications and their effect on the leadership outcomes of an administration, organization, team, or office.
I have written about leader communications before. It is one of the topics I have good experience with though some of the situations I was involved with were anything but good.
I took a senior leadership job at a military educational institution some years ago. It was a dream job for me as it combined my passions of service, leadership, and professional development of others. The broken communication issues presented themselves before I ever accepted the position or arrived on station.
Immediately after interviewing for the position, I attended a senior leadership conference where the incumbent was present. During a breakout session, he was asked to provide an update on the hiring situation for his replacement. In his discussion with the audience of more than 50 senior leaders (I was one of them), he said that there were some good candidates and some others. By communicating his personal opinion of the candidate pool, he established a hurdle for whomever was selected. His communication setup the candidate to have to prove themselves to this assembled group (was the selectee a good candidate or one of the others?) as well as the large staff already in place.
“Challenges make life interesting, however, overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
When I came out as the selectee, I was floored. I had put myself into the “others” category after listening to the incumbent’s discussion. When I came into the position, we had a two-week hand-off period. These hand-off periods can be very effective or pure hell. When I arrived on day 1 and saw my desk was setup in the common hallway area I knew what mine was going to be like. I prefer to come into an organization and establish who I am and get engaged with the staff and mission. With the departing leader still engaged every day for two weeks, I was forced to exist within his communications process which allowed the staff to run the script of, “is he a good candidate or one of the other’s?” every time they saw me.
When I recently read the article about the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments creating secretive, coded, and incognito communication methods to work around the present administration, it reminded me of some of the staff who would not talk near me but communicated outside of work to determine paths to distract or divert energy that was needed to move the organization forward. There is reality to subversive communication practices within an organization; they can exist in a medium sized professional development academy or the mammoth US government.
In my situation, these three broken communication practices (prejudicial conversation, delayed transfer of leadership, subversive staff communications) delayed my relationship building, my establishment of trust with the internal and external stakeholders, and put obstacles in the path of establishing an effective transparent communication culture.
“Relationships cannot grow without the proper amount of communications.”
A leader must be eyes-wide-open to these possibilities within their organization. Humans are what humans are. In my situation, the organization and staff knew that major change was in order and that drove some of their poor communication behaviors. In one instance, a senior staff member was not going to adjust to the new leadership or path forward and single-handedly infected the communications process. In this situation, that person should have been removed for the good of all. I was slow to act and our progress and effectiveness suffered. This is not tolerable in the fast-paced and all-encompassing communication environment of the 21st century administration, organization, team, or office. Fortunately, even with these human and communication impediments, we accomplished many of our goals and took the organization to a new level of professionalism and growth.
“Anyone could be a leader if there was no cost. True leaders willingly pay a price, to sacrifice self-interest, to have the honor to lead.”
Leading an organization is a fantastic and honorable experience. It can be setup for success or failure from the very first communication. It is important to keep communications focused, targeted for success, and aligned with the expected outcome. In my experiences as a leader, communications are very easy to break and much tougher to fix. Are you focused on effective communication behaviors in your organization and do you know what to look for if communications are not what you desire?