Transparency is not for wimps. Leaders rarely intend to deceive. Confusion, miscommunication, and even deception just happen through neglect. Here’s how:
Communication Blind Spots to Remove
Blind Spot #1: Equating Information With Communication
Leaders frequently seem puzzled when an internal survey finds that an alarming number of employees feel that the “executive leadership team” doesn’t communicate with them. In discussions with leaders, I hear them say things like this:
We put major announcements on the intranet. We have quarterly all-hands meetings. We have a system where employees can send us suggestions. Our managers have weekly staff meetings. We have internal newsletters. I have no idea what the “no communication” comments mean!
But when interviewing employees about the lack of leadership communication, they talk about human connection. Feeling that their ideas are heard. Having opportunity to ask questions. Hearing and understanding the reasoning behind major decisions. Having visions, goals, and deliverables translated specifically for their department. Hearing specific job expectations and getting prompt personal feedback on their performance.
Big difference in definitions.
Blind Spot #2: Communicating the Attitude of Superior Wisdom
Leaders who hold positions of authority may do so for any number of reasons: Technical competence. Project management skills. Personal relationships with those who hire and promote. Industry knowledge and celebrity status. Great “people skills” or political skills. Even excellent communication skills.
But none of these competencies or reasons translates to superior wisdom in all circumstances about all decisions. Yet some leaders communicate as if they know best—always. They refuse to hear opposing views. They dismiss approaches they personally do not have experience with. They fail to give serious consideration to warnings or even answer questions raised about their decisions or the actions they plan to take.
Blind Spot #3: Communicating a “Winning” Culture
To create a high-achieving team, some leaders focus almost exclusively on a “winning” team, a “successful mission,” and a “project delivered on time, within budget.” While everyone champions results and success, creating a culture of “winning at all costs” may lead a team to focus on the principle that “winning” is the goal.
That cultural climate quickly devolves into winning by any means—bullying, cut-throat, illegal.
Blind Spot #4: Addressing “Cookie-Cutter” Values
Another blind spot for leaders: Communicating as if everyone thinks as they do, feels as they do, reacts as they do, and values what they do. Based on that assumption, their recognition programs and awards show very little variety and tend to motivate only one element of the employee population—those who respond in the same way they do.
When these leaders explain their reasoning behind decisions, their explanations tend to satisfy only one group of employees—those who think like they do.
When these leaders promote workers, their selections favor those who manage and lead just like they do.
Blind Spot #5: Drawing From Your Legacy
To save time in their hectic, high-pressure schedule, some leaders choose to focus their time on real challenges and short-circuit their thinking on problems they’ve already solved in the past.
So their first filter, as challenge after challenge hits them each day, is: “Has this been solved before?” The first assumption: Yes. So, they quickly grab the tried-and-true solution and move on.
The blind spot: Assuming too many challenges can be handled with the same “been there, done that” method. Legacy solutions work well and leave time for bigger challenges—except for when they no longer fit the current problem.
How to Remove the Communication Blinders
Accept the fact—at gut level, not just “in theory”—that no leader has infallible wisdom.
Communicate to your team that you expect feedback on your ideas, approaches, and decisions.
Recognize openly those employees and peers who give helpful feedback.
Participate periodically in 360-degree assessments regarding your leadership communication style.
Surround yourself with a sounding board of advisors—those who do not report to you and whose paycheck you do not sign—to provide feedback on your leadership communication style as it relates to major decisions and actions.
Communicating—with your metaphorical eyes open to see past the blind spots—takes courageous leadership.
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