February 13, 2007

Leadership and Communication

Six years ago I received my assignment as Vice President of Database Marketing. I was energized by the opportunity to put my stamp on the database marketing world.

I figured I could make magic happen, simply because I had a fancy title that demanded respect.

Within days, the cold reality of the business world humbled me. It would take a lot more than a fancy title to get things done.

Twelve thousand hours of work and maybe more than seven thousand hours of meetings later, I have learned how leadership and communication are forever dependent upon each other.

Here's an example of the importance of communication. Consider the following two statements.

Statement #1: We will be installing new campaign management software in April. Consultants will be here in March to learn everything about your job. These individuals will help us figure out how to be more efficient by using the new software in our day-to-day jobs. We expect some job responsibilities to change. Thank you for your patience as we work through this transition.

Statement #2: I have spoken with many of you about your job responsibilities. I have heard your concerns, and have observed the long hours you are working. In spite of repeated requests, management chose not to add staff to our department. Given management's point of view, I decided to purchase campaign management software, software that should make our jobs easier. Because each of you are so overworked right now, I am hiring consultants to help us identify ways to best use the software. It is my sincere desire to have the consultants work with us in March, to install the software in April, begin using the software in May, and have a more manageable workload in June. If this transition goes well, I expect there to be enough surplus time for some of you to begin tackling strategic projects early this summer. I'm glad you spoke up and asked for a change. What questions do you have that I might be able to answer for you?

If you listen closely to each statement as the statement is read, you are likely to develop a mental picture of what you think is happening.

The first statement is relatively vague. As a result, the employee will fill in the blanks for herself. If her questions are not answered by what is said, she is likely to make assumptions about the pieces of information that are missing.

The second statement, while not perfect, paints a picture that is different. There is more information. There is less room for the employee to feel doubt.

If there is anything I have learned over the past six-plus years, it is the importance of telling as much as you can to your employees about what is happening, why it is happening, and how the employee benefits (or avoids trouble) by following the direction of the executive. Communication must be followed up with actions consistent with the communication.

Failure to communicate leads to uncertainty, doubt, gossip, and even bad feelings. Failure to act in a manner consistent with your communication destroys trust. Failure to do both is simply not a fair way to treat your employees.

Are there examples of individuals you have worked with, individuals who are great communicators? What lessons did you learn from the communication style of these leaders, or co-workers?


  1. Extremely powerful observation. My personal experiences also suggest that if employees are answering more and more of the strategic/change questions themselves, its most probably because they haven't heard the answers from you. And from that point on, its your wisdom/way of thinking vs. theirs. It can go anywhere! :)

  2. Anonymous9:05 AM

    Very insightful post. "Made to stick" has some excellent discussion about the need and process of closing these "knowledge gaps".
    Check it out:


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