Wednesday, July 8, 2009

You Don’t Communicate Enough

You don’t communicate enough.

I don’t know you, but I can with a great deal of certainty make that statement. In fact, I have never met anyone who was in a position of leadership who communicated enough. I have led any number of organizations, and with one exception, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t communicate enough. I have also served in many different organizations and can say quite safely that there was never enough communication.

Communication is how you translate your vision, your goals, and your plan into the vision, the goals, and the plan of the rest of the organization. The people need to not only understand the vision, goal and plan, they need to hear it and understand it in such a substantive way that it becomes their vision, their goal, their plan. As the leader you must ‘convert them.’ And you will do that by talking to them and listening to them.

One of the great leaders of the last several centuries was the great Royal Navy leader, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. Nelson had none of the physical attributes that are commonly held up as necessary for a leader, he was of average height, slight of build, had a quiet voice, after the battle for Corsica in 1793 was blind in his right eye, and lost most of his right arm in 1797 at the battle of Tenerife. But he was a leader of unparalleled ability. And at the center of his leadership, the ‘Nelson Touch’ as it was called, was his ability to communicate with his officers and sailors.

And how did he do this? Very simply, he talked to them. And he talked to them again and again and again. Nelson would have long dinners with his officers during which he would both instruct and entertain them, dinners in which not only did he talk at length about tactics and operations and the running of a ship, but also during which he could evaluate each of his officers ‘at close range’ and learn what made each ‘tick.’ He learned about his men even as he instructed them. So well did he instruct them and train them and drill them that he knew that he could trust them when he led them into battle, trust them to make informed decisions without the need to turn back to Nelson and ask.

And the key to it all was communication.

This example applies to any organization, no matter what the ‘product’ and no matter what the size. I remember Robert Townsend telling a story many years ago when I was in college, about taking over a company and moving his desk out of the executive suites and onto the shop floor (it was a manufacturing company of some sort). He placed the desk on a major ‘thorough-fare’ where everyone walked past him. He would stand near the desk every day and say hello to people and they would stop and talk. And so he explained his goals for the company, and he also heard all that worked and didn’t work in the company.

So, if you ever overhear someone saying ‘I think he means…’ and it isn’t right, the fault is yours. And the solution is: Communicate.

My father used to quote a line from Ted Williams that went like this: “Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice. And when you think you are done, practice some more.” The very same can be said for communication:

“Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. And when you think you’re done, Communicate some more.”


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