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Leadership Mumbo Jumbo: Are You Communicating Clearly to Your Followers?

November 11, 2012

Have you ever completed a task at work, thinking you did it well, only to be told by your boss that you screwed it up?

Worse, what about managing a project, when well into it you find out that your boss had another vision of what you were to be doing? Now you have to talk to your team to give them the “news.”

Or how about the reverse, where you thought that you had clearly explained to one of your team members what needed to be done only to be surprised at a later date. What was your reaction to that event? Were you pissed off at the individual or at yourself for not taking the time to ensure that you were understood in your communication?

History is full of poor communication between leaders and their subordinates. It could be military blunders, patient deaths resulting from surgical procedures gone awry, or political campaigns that imploded. The list is endless, growing daily.

For example, the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been blamed in part on poor communication between BP management and its contractors. The nuclear plant catastrophe in Japan, prompted by the tsunami that struck the country’s northeast coast, was an example of communication gone bad. And a third example is the countless instances of troop deaths in Afghanistan because of information break-downs between combat operations and senior military decision-makers.

Lapses in effective communication can be very subtle, even innocuous, yet they lead to misunderstandings in the workplace.

In her concise yet excellent book Eats, Shoots and Leaves Lynne Truss talks about the importance of punctuation in communication. While her focus is on the written word, the double entendre of her book’s title underscores the importance of precision when we’re communicating to our co-workers, bosses and subordinates.

Here are a couple of examples of where the media has accidentally used double meanings in their news headlines:

• Children make nutritious snacks.

• Miners refuse to work after death.

In the recent second Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Romney referred to “binders full of women” when responding to a question on employment equity. His comment, while meaning to be figurative in substance and obviously not literal, came across poorly and was seized by the media and women’s groups as an example of a man who is out of touch with women’s issues.

Why should we bother taking the time to communicate clearly in the workplace? Because for one thing it ensures that a task is completed correctly the first time, eliminating re-dos. In a competitive global economy, companies that foster clear communication among employees will reap the benefits of higher productivity, and hence greater competitiveness.

For governments that are under pressure to downsize and reduce spending, better communication improves productivity and services to the public at lower costs.

And to those in the military who put their lives on the line for their countries, communicating more clearly will hopefully reduce injuries and deaths among troops.

Don’t engage in leadership mumbo jumbo. Be precise and transparent in your communication with your co-workers, staff and boss. You’ll find that in being a clear communicator work will be accomplished that much faster, with fewer mistakes and problems, and with much happier people.

It’s not rocket science, folks. We just need to introduce the self-discipline to say what we mean and mean what we say when we communicate. Take that extra moment.

The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.
– Napoleon Bonaparte


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2012 5:07 pm

    Indeed, Lynne.

  2. November 13, 2012 3:50 pm

    I love that “children make nutritious snacks!” Sounds like cannibalism is here! Good thing the miner ghosts aren’t working after death–it might be hard for them to get much done!

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