“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
It seems like in today’s world leaders are getting the shit kicked out of them if they communicate in a precise fashion, in a measured way and in what appears to be calculated communicating.
They are called unauthentic, bland and blamed for being ‘less than truthful.’
This is creating a sense that semi-impetuous blurbs of ‘here is what I think’ communication is deemed of higher value from our leaders.
It is a sad state of affairs if we value the latter in a leader more than the former.
But let me point out the flaws in the impetuous less-than-thought-out thought communicating.
I call it the fraying of organizational communication.
You learn fairly quickly once you begin leading a larger group of people, and desire them to grow beyond simply being order takers, that precise communications matters.
You learn you cannot be everywhere at once, you cannot be in every meeting and you cannot have people simply parrot your own words because … well … they are your words and not theirs <and for them to grow they need to figure out how to articulate things on their own>. Therefore, you learn that you need to precisely communicate an idea so that they can offer up their own words to share that idea.
You learn this because impreciseness means people start having to answer not only unnecessary questions … but are also being demanded to explain ‘what you meant.’
This is a dangerous slippery slope.
People work for you for a reason <you most likely have more experience and have some skills they do not have>.
People have different titles for a reason <they most likely have different or less experience and have yet to learn some skills they do not have>.
This means that farther out your words & thoughts have to be explained the more likely the explanation is not going to be exactly right.
And let’s ad in ‘the stress factor.’
This is where ‘fraying’ becomes obvious.
The less precise a leader is the more likely the communication fabric is going to be tugged at the edges. The edges being where many of your least experienced people reside. The less precise a leader is the more the pressure at the farthest point of communication.
This is where the ‘fraying’ becomes most obvious. As more and more questions are piled upon the person on the edge with regard to the “whys” and “whats” the communication becomes more and more stressed … and mistakes are made.
Things are said that just may not be exactly right.
Something is said in exasperation.
Something is communicated as a ‘well, could be’ scenario to offer some space.
This is not the fault of the person on the edge … the responsibility lies with the person at the center.
As a leader, the people closest to you most likely don’t need the precision, calculation and measured words … but you give it to them anyway. You do so because those closest to you will find their own words to say what you said … without losing its meaning.
A flawed message at the top doesn’t lose its flaws as it expands … its flaws become increased.
Some people call it ‘getting your talking points in line’ … I do not. I simply call it “clarity & precision from the top.” I do that because while it may seem bland and it may seem calculated … it avoids the more difficult problems and criticisms.
A leader must hold the center verbally. It can sometimes be held with vision and soaring rhetoric but more often it is captures in the calculated pragmatic words which are easily carried by those on the edges out beyond the organization.
‘Things fall apart, the center cannot hold….
The best lack all conviction,
While the worst are full of passionate intensity
William Butler Yeats < The Second Coming>
As a leader there may be nothing worse than confidently saying the wrong thing. For when you do the rest of your organization feels compelled to support your confidence … uhm … and the wrong thing.
And if the ‘wrongness’ is compounded with any sense of vagueness in meaning ‘wrong’ becomes his multidimensional blob of slime which mucks up the entire organizational engine.
I am fairly sure mom & pop businesses don’t learn this lesson <or maybe not as well>. They have no real need to do so. Most words are in the domain of the ‘mom & pop’ and any family members or close knit employees will most likely simply regurgitate whatever the mom & pop say with earnestness … but no real understanding. There is no need to understand … it just is.
And maybe that is where leaders, who are precise and calculated in wording, understand what truth about success within an organization is — that understanding matters.
People cannot defend what they do not completely understand and, well, you know as a leader you cannot always be there to defend and you need to depend on others to do so … not by interpreting what you said but through understanding what you said.
In the end.
We may beat the crap out of ‘bland colorless calculated’ communication from leaders but we should all recognize that it isn’t necessarily done out of fear of saying the wrong thing or political correctness but rather done because … well … good leaders know they hold the center. They know that understanding limits fraying at the edges of the organization.
They know they have a responsibility, boring as it may be on occasion, to pragmatically say what needs to be said in a way that doesn’t encourage guessing or questioning.
Clarity really does matter.
And ‘bland’ can be underrated.
But fraying communications farther from the center is a reflection of a leader not assuming responsibility for holding a strong center. A good leader knows that while they may have a dozen things they really want to say 11 of those things will most likely make the people on the edges edgy and miserable.
A good leader knows that an organization is not just about what the one wants to say <the leader themselves> but rather organizational effectiveness resides in ‘out of many, one.’
I imagine what I am saying is that if you see some people on-the-ground who are part of an organization and you start hearing verbal mistakes … 99% of the time it is a reflection of the fact the leader was vague, imprecise and didn’t hold the communication center <that would make them a bad leader>.