Communication Failures in Organizations

Daniel Boone once said, “I can’t say I was ever lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” Of course, being a real ‘he-man,’ he would never ask for directions!

Many leaders are bewildered about communication problems in their organizations. A well-known line uttered by a desperate sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is, “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Many people in today’s organizations feel like there’s “info, info everywhere, but not a drop of communication to drink.”

When we discuss this growing problem, I’ll often ask workshop participants to raise their hand if they feel their organizations need much better communications. Almost every hand goes up. I’ll then ask how many people would like to increase the number of e-mails they get. Few hands go up. Yet, what happens when managers hear people ask for more communications? That’s right, they send more e-mails.

Like confusing activity with accomplishment, most managers confuse information with communications.

Tomorrow we publish my January blogs in the February issue of The Leader Letter (click here to subscribe and receive by email). The first post in this month’s issue focuses on the communications confusion confounding so many leaders. We live in the information age with more communication tools and channels than ever before. Yet, true communication is getting worse. Water, water everywhere…

Timeless Leadership Principles

As you’ve been reading in my blogs and the February issue, I’ve been gathering input and researching my latest book. That brings me back to reflect on a few timeless leadership principles. Communication breakdowns are complicated. They have many causes. Losing touch with these underlying leadership principles creates or adds to communication failures:

  • No quick fixes. Lasting effectiveness comes from moving beyond bolt-on programs to built-in processes. Many people are looking for what’s new in quick-fix communication tools, technologies, programs, or workshops. Communication problems are often symptoms of deeper, interconnected culture or leadership issues.
  • Constant improvement. Like housework or staying in shape, communication is a continuous effort. You need to keep working in your job, team, or organization while you also work on your job, team, or organization. High performers develop the discipline to continually look at whether they’re doing the right things in the best way.
  • True to You. You can’t get “them” to communicate better while you keep doing the same thing. There must be alignment between your own development and where you’re trying to take your organization or team. A leader with stunted personal growth rarely grows a team or organization to higher effectiveness.
  • Leadership as action, not a position. Outstanding leadership action often comes from people who aren’t in key leadership (management) roles. Too many managers are bosses, bureaucrats, or “snoopervisors.” They’re often not leading. Highly effective organizations are brimming with leaders at all levels and in all positions.
  • Laughter and fun. You may have missed that study showing suppressed laughter goes back down to spread the hips and produce gas! Communication and openness often thrive in an environment of humor, fun, and playfulness.

Tomorrow’s issue also deals with another big challenge of our time; overload. When disconnected and undisciplined senior leaders demand way too much of middle managers and their teams, it’s a communication problem. Successful middle managers face their fear and have courageous conversations. That can be a CLM (career limiting moose). But strong leaders refuse to be infected with the Victimitis Virus.

This issue also deals with meeting madness. Meetings can dramatically enhance communication and time management. Or not. Too many meetings suck the energy and effectiveness from many participants. How are yours? How do you know?

Today’s technology can compound misunderstandings at higher speeds to more people. Effective leaders build community and communion with conversations for deeper understanding and connection. And their actions ensure people see them loud and clear.