I once heard a top executive at a major corporation say “my job is to keep people guessing. If they know what I’m thinking or what I want them to do, then I’m not doing my job.”
This guy was a VP at 3 companies that are well known and respected around the world by the age of 40; he is now the President of one of the world’s leading manufacturing companies so you might say it’s hard to argue with his results. But in my humble (ok, so maybe it’s not so humble) opinion his methods were awful. Awful enough that he can’t seem to sustain himself at a company for more than a handful of years.
I had the opportunity to watch him up close when we worked together several years ago. His methods burned bridges it didn’t build them, his methods not only didn’t build relationships, it stymied them. He deliberately kept his people at arms length and worst of all, he made a deliberate decision to NOT communicate with them.
When someone in a leadership position fails to communicate many negative things begin to happen, morale slides almost immediately, followed quickly by productivity.
I have a theory as to why that happens; I think people have this “information space” inside of them and that space needs to be constantly filled. If it’s not filled with accurate information from say a leader for instance, then they will find a way to fill it themselves. What they normally fill it with are what we call rumors. Rumors are interesting things, they don’t have to be true, they don’t have to be positive, in fact, all they have to do is fill up that space.
One of the many problems with rumors is that they don’t fill us for long so we always tend to be on the lookout for a new rumor to fill the space. It’s all this searching for a new rumor that tends to kill productivity and it’s the content of the rumors that tend to kill morale. (did you ever notice that most rumors are about bad stuff?)
An authentic leader knows that information is the enemy of rumor. They consistently share every bit of information, company news and financial results that they legally are allowed to share. Authentic leaders communicate well because they know that their people also have a profound interest in the well being and direction of the company, just like they do.
Authentic leaders are intentional in their communications, not trying to communicate in their free time (as if there is such a thing) but scheduling time to make certain that communications are clear, accurate, concise and most of all, consistent.
People seldom follow blindly, so if you hope to lead you’re going to have to tell them where you’re leading them. You’ll have to tell them the what, why, where, and how of your leadership. It really comes down to this: if you can communicate well with your people they may follow, if you can’t or won’t communicate then they might be behind you but they are almost certainly not following.
I can’t finish this post without also pointing out that truly effective communication is a two-way street, so while you’re communicating be sure to pause often enough to ensure what you’ve said has been heard and understood. An authentic leader will never mistake silence for agreement. Encourage open and honest feedback from your people, they will help you to grow as a leader if you’ll let them.
Communicate today, it’s a basic requirement of authentic leadership!