The Last and Largest Burden of Leadership Communication

If you are the leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure understanding.

I had an amusing reminder of a critical communication concept a few months ago.  It was one of those wake up calls that starts softly and ended with a laugh; but it had a serious lesson.

The situation was this:  In working through a strategic planning exercise with a client, I took the time to outline a concept in the strategy labelled, simply:

“Change Leadership”

The concept, which I had not yet outlined in detail, was (in my mind) to pull in all of the tools, approaches, management behaviors, and other actions required to ensure that the strategies being outlined had a chance of permeating the business.  It was, admittedly, a bit of jargon used as a placeholder for a critical set of leadership elements.   I knew all this, of course; because I had written it!

The rub, as I found out, was that the concept of “Change Leadership,” a noun whose full outline I was intent on conveying at some later date; was possibly going to be interpreted by leaders in the organization as a verb; as in “this is where we change leadership.”

As in “this is where leaders get fired.”

For those of you who may not know, consulting with a top team and having them believe that you’ve outlined the conceptual means of their demise may come with some difficulties!!!

Luckily, this misunderstanding was more of a comic moment than a serious one–a leader on the client’s executive team mentioned it in passing. But, it brings up an important, timeless issue…One of clarity in communication and understanding.

George Bernard Shaw once said that “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

There’s a lesson in there for those of us who spend our time leading others through concepts.  (Hint, that’s pretty much any executive leader.)

In my case, I thought I had outlined a work stream for change management; but somebody read what I wrote and thought I might want to fire management.

Your cases may vary:

You think you’ve given sufficient direction and clarity; but others have no idea what you are talking about.

You are getting exasperated at having to repeat yourself on all the “easy” stuff; but others think you just aren’t communicating and that it isn’t at all very easy.

You, in short, may be missing a significant part of communication:  The moment where you check for understanding, and adjust your delivery for clarity.

It happens to us all.

Unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to blame the victim.  We use phrases like “he just doesn’t get it,” or “she’s a poor listener” to cover for our own inadequacies as a leader and communicator.

Be sure to take the time to understand whether those around you understand.  If you are the leader, it’s on you, not them.

It’s one of those peculiar burdens that comes with being a leader.

It could save you from some scary circumstances.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with leadership mis-communication and misunderstanding. 

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