If You Can't Communicate, You Can't Lead (Part 1)
The longer I lead the more I’m convinced, communication is perhaps the most difficult aspect of leadership. I know this may seem strange. Even as I write this, I am asking myself, “Can this be right?” It seems like vision, strategy, competition, even people, would all top the list of what makes leadership challenging.
Yes, many factors contribute to the enormity of our task as leaders. I’m just not sure any are more critical or daunting as clear communication. Let’s unpack this a little bit. What are some of the barriers to communication within an organization?
Scope – The bigger the audience, the bigger the challenge. Of course, if you are leading a global organization with tens of thousands employees, you would agree. However, I think scope is an issue if you have ten employees. Once you get beyond just a few people, the challenge of clarity increases exponentially.
Levels – The more levels we have in our organizations, the more difficult it is to get the message from our head and heart to theirs. This may be another blinding flash of the obvious; it is nonetheless real. Just a few levels can feel like a cone of silence when trying to pass information down through an organization.
Bias – Often people hear what they want to hear. Their filters affect and distort the message. We are not without our own bias as leaders. Our assumptions about or audience significantly color our message and our methods. Our past, our beliefs about the future, our personality and our strengths, all create bias. Not good or bad, just additional complicating factors as we attempt to communicate.
Time – The demands on our time and the time of our audience create tremendous pressure and additional noise that must be acknowledged and mitigated. We often find ourselves time starved – we scan books, magazines and emails. We read book abstracts and get our news from Twitter. Our people do, too. This makes clear communication the Mount Everest of leadership – not impossible, but VERY challenging.
Projecting – We assume the way we best receive information is the way our audience will best receive and process our message. Unfortunately, this is not true. We also assume the motives of our audience mirror our own. We are often deceived. To assume others see the world as we do is almost always a bad assumption.
Noise – Our messages are often unnoticed. Not to say they are not true, they just become irrelevant for lack attention. The average American is bombarded by 5,000 commercial messages in a typical day. Our message is just one small voice in a sea of competing and often conflicting messages.
What should a leader do? This is something I am investing more and more time trying to learn. Next week, I’ll share my top tips at this point on my journey.
What factors make it difficult for you to communicate across your organization?