We are continuing the series from my book Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make with the second half of Chapter 7: Communication Chaos, Singing from the Same Page in the Hymnal. I hope you are enjoying it. With my next show I am starting a series called Learn to Lead: 8 Skills every new leader must master, and I would like your input on what skills YOU think a leader needs. Please leave a comment on my engagement page or a voicemail at (720) 440-2981. The first 20 people to do so will receive a coupon code for my book The Power of Passion in Leadership.
THE PRICE OF LEADERSHIP ISOLATION
Here are several real-life, anonymous accounts from wounded people who lost respect for leaders who didn’t bother to listen. First, a young woman hurt by a leader who constantly cut her off:
Our leader was a very “choleric” person. We were hurt by him many times. We expected he would wait and give us answers to our serious questions about our work. Many times he walked off in midsentence, having heard nothing. This happened to women more than men.
Then, there’s the account of a youth director in a church, who was called to the carpet with no warning. He was caught in what I call “the ambush”:
While attending college I accepted a youth director’s position at a local church. I dedicated approximately twenty to thirty hours a week working with junior and senior highers. After serving there for two years I was called into an elders meeting. One of the elders, who had three children in my ministry, took out a list of all the things I had done wrong in the past two years. Most of what they said was true, for I was brand new in this work and made lots of mistakes. The next thing I knew, the elders were calling for my resignation in the heated emotions of the meeting. It came as a complete surprise. What did I learn? First, I cannot think of one instance in those two years that any of the elders or the pastor shepherded me in my ministry. Second, I had no idea nor warning that I was doing anything wrong. Finally, the leaders and staff had no significant relationships. Nobody could trust them.
And here is a letter from a frustrated follower stationed overseas, who found himself stuck with a leader who had no interest in listening:
Our team was voting on an issue. The majority of the members were in favor of the action, but the team leader was against it. As the votes were cast and didn’t go his way, he gave a new explanation of the issue. We took another vote, with the same results. But he wouldn’t give in until we voted six more times, always with the same results. It was a frustrating experience!
Certainly, if followers have a bill of rights, the right to be heard by their leader must be article one. I believe in strong leadership, but also in a strong leader who listens. Assuming that the group in that last example had a democratic process of decision making, the leader should have been in touch with the people enough to know where the decision was going. The incident just shows how out of touch he was with his followers.
COMMUNICATE THE BIG PICTURE WITH PASSION
Communication is especially important in the larger issues of corporate life. I encourage leaders to spell out their purposes, key goals, and core values, and to proclaim them from the rooftops. In fact, declaring the purpose and core values of an organization is one of the essential jobs of a leader. The staff who have been around a long time need to be reminded, and the new recruits need to be folded in to the corporate vision.
Here is a recent example from an organization that clearly communicates to newcomers exactly what it stands for. The organization is called CRM: Empowering Leaders, is led by Dr. Sam Metcalf, and is based in Fullerton, California.
The Expectations and Privileges of CRM StaffAs a staff person with CRM, it is fair for me to expect the following from those whom I follow throughout the organization. I can expect:To know those who lead me and what they believe.If I follow you, will I know who you are? What you are like? Are you authentic, honest, and will you deal with me with integrity?To have leaders who will explain to me their vision.What do you see for me? What’s the future and where do I fit? Do you care about my future? Will you have a place for me or will you simply use me?TO NEVER BE LEFT IN ISOLATION. Are you there for me? Do you love me? Will you love me? Do you care about my cares, my concerns, my needs?TO BE HEARD. To whom will you listen? Will I be heard, taken seriously, and appreciated?TO BE TRUSTED. Can I take initiative without fear? Will my creativity be rewarded and encouraged? Will I be respected?TO BE PROVIDED A CONTEXT FOR GROWTH. Will I be encouraged to be a lifelong learner? Will my gifts be increas- ingly identified and expressed? Can I live in a context where God’s power can be freely manifested in my life? Will I be developed?TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. Will I be held accountable for personal godliness and holiness in all aspects of life and ministry? Will I be fairly evaluated for the per- formance of my responsibilities? Will I be lovingly held to God’s best for my life?TO BE THE OBJECT OF GRACE. Will I be forgiven, even in the face of shortcomings, inadequacies, and failure? Will I have the freedom to be whom God has made me? Will I be led with kindness?
Another example of positive communication comes from one of the most successful companies in America, one that has truly placed God first in its business. Several months ago I had the opportunity to visit the national headquarters of the ServiceMaster Company. No one at ServiceMaster would ever be foggy about what the chief goals and vision of that organiza- tion are. It is literally plastered on the walls of their corporate offices.
Anyone considering becoming a partner with the ServiceMaster family, which is what they call employees, is expected to be committed to the company’s corporate values:
We are in the business of serving others. This requires all of us to have an unending pursuit of excellence as we bring the benefit of our extraordinary service to our customers. This way of doing business can be best expressed by our four objectives. They are:
- To honor God in all that we do.
- To help people develop.
- To pursue excellence.
- To grow profitably.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF CLEAR COMMUNICATION
Clearing up chaotic communication in an organization is not easy. If you are building a new group from scratch, it is much easier. Whether you are starting over or are trying to be more faithful in clearing up cloudy communications, there are four basic areas where your followers need to be clear:
The vision and values of the group. Every group needs a clear mission state- ment indicating the strategic purpose of the organization. This mission statement is a clear declaration of vision. In addition to the mission/purpose statement, there should be an agreed upon set of clearly defined goals and objectives. This organizational blueprint needs to be communicated clearly, and updated as often as the nature of your work changes. (We’ll take a closer look at the whole area of corporate values and culture in the next chapter, and a closer look at corporate vision in chapter 10.)
The chain of command. This may sound harsh in a world of flat organizations and decentralization, but it’s not. It has to do with simply being clear on who is responsible for what. It is as important in a team-based group as in a traditional hierarchy. If your people have questions or problems, do they know who handles what in your organization? If they have a serious complaint, is there a clear path for their issues to rise to the top? When you have a project to assign within the group, do you know whose job it should be? If there is a major problem, do you know who is in charge of that area? These are all chain-of-command issues. Chain of command is simply the orderly division of responsibilities within an organization— making sure everyone knows who is responsible for what. If everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. Chain of command clarifies the questions of who reports to whom, who supervises whom, and who is in charge of what.
Organizational charts. We looked at some organizational charts in previous chapters. Organizational charts are an important part of clear communication. The idea of an organizational chart is not really new. Moses had a very detailed one. Does your group have an organizational chart? It is helpful for everyone in an organization to know where he or she fits. The “org chart” is a people map, outlining the relationships within the organ- ization. It shows the lines of authority and responsibility. It enables everyone to visualize the chain of command.
Organizational charts help leadership see, in a quick, visual overview, just how the work of the company is organized. The charts also help the members of the organization know where they fit and where to go in the organization for help, resources, permissions, clearances, complaints, and grievances. They are also very helpful in explaining the corporate culture to the new members of your group. Organizational charts show the full scope of relationships in organizational life. Since those relationships change often, the charts should change as often as necessary. They should be simple, and they should be flexible, but most of all, they should simply be.
Job descriptions/position descriptions. Do your people have job descriptions? There are a thousand ways to write job descriptions, some quite complex and others very simple. I like job descriptions that lean toward simplicity. In our company we have moved to position descriptions that show what the basic responsibilities of a job entail. They need to be flexi- ble and should outline three basic ingredients of any position: (1) primary responsibilities in the organization, (2) key activities and tasks performed to fulfill those responsibilities, and (3) reporting structure. With a clear job description, there can be no confusion between the leader and the follower about what that person is supposed to be doing. And it becomes the primary tool for evaluating effectiveness in an annual review system.
How do you know if your organization has communication chaos? Ask yourself
- Chaos and confusion about the group’s direction.
- Arguments or disagreements about priorities.
- Duplication of effort.
- Waste of resources through jobs that get canceled midstream.
- Conflicts among departments.
- Poor morale.
- Poor productivity.
- Idleness of resources.
- Job insecurity.
There are no little people in your organization. Years ago, Francis Schaeffer wrote a significant book titled No Little People. He argued that in God’s view there are no little people and no little places. All have equal value no matter where they are found and what they do. I think the same principle should be practiced by every Christian leader in their attitudes about the far-flung corners of their organizations. Everyone is important. Everyone has a right and a need to know what is going on in the organization—the big news as well as the little details. The more people are informed, the more they feel a part of the whole organization and the less chance there is for misunderstanding.
How do you feel if others know something you don’t know? Have you ever learned significant news about your own organization from an out- sider? Someone outside of leadership gave you the scoop on some juicy insider news. How does that make you feel? Insignificant? Hurt? Forgotten? Keep the troops informed. Have a passion to communicate, communicate, communicate. One really cannot overcommunicate. Listen to the advice of Max De Pree from Leadership Is an Art: “The right to know is basic. Moreover, it is better to err on the side of sharing too much information than risk leaving someone in the dark. Information is power, but it is pointless power if hoarded. Power must be shared for an organi- zation or a relationship to work” (104–5).
How to avoid fossilization. As you looked at the chart on life cycles and communication at the beginning of this chapter, you may have thought, I don’t want us to become fossilized in the formal rituals of bureaucracy. Here are a few tips to keep your organization lively as you commit more to written communication:
- Have regular press conferences with your people. Let them hear your heart. Allow them to ask you tough questions.
- Keep memos brief.
- Include one-page summaries on the top of lengthy reports.
- Use faxes and e-mail to keep communication fresh and up to the minute.
- Produce a concise written statement of vision and objec- tives that can be distributed throughout your organization.
- Have stand-up meetings to avoid lengthy discussions. Read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni to learn how to do meetings right.
- Develop an in-house newsletter for weekly communica- tion to the insiders.
- As the leader, cast the vision to insiders as much as you do to outsiders.
How to keep in touch with your people. After fifteen years as president and CEO of WorldVenture, I discovered as I looked back that the people I know the best are the ones whose homes I’ve visited or who have visited mine. That should be a no-brainer! There is no substitute for face time. We have to build personal relationships with our coworkers. Here is a summary of principles discussed and suggested in this chapter to help you avoid communication chaos:
- Have face time with your leaders.
- Play and pray with those you lead.
- Schedule regular off-site meetings for team development that include play as well as work.
- Make internal communications a top priority of your job.
- Keep your followers informed as to what you expect of them.
- Find ways to articulate and communicate vision and values.
- Make sure that formal communication systems are in place.
- Avoid the great surprise. Don’t ambush people who are not doing their jobs well. Be honest.
- MbWA: Manage by Wandering Around. Get out of your office, but be sensitive to others achieving their goals/don’t interrupt another’s work flow.
- Find ways to tap into the underground within your organization. Have informants.
- Practice HOT communication: Honest, Open, and Transparent. Nothing happens until people talk.