If you're an accomplished leader, it's pretty darn likely that your communication is too complex. After all, you spend a considerable amount of time each day dealing with both big-picture concerns and short-term challenges, so you've gotten used to communicating in a complicated way.
But that's actually not the reason your communication is not as effective as it could be. Here is the more real problem: You get bored when you have to communicate in a clear, simple, consistent way.
I was reminded of this dirty little secret when reading The New York Times' Corner Office column profiling John Lilly, partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners.
Mr. Lilly confessed that at one of his early start-up companies, "I would get bored saying the same thing every day. So I decided that I would change it up a little bit. But then everybody had a different idea of what I thought because I was mixing it up."
You might as well admit it: This has happened to you. A number of years ago, I worked with a CEO at a telecommunications company who was frustrated because his employees didn't understand key aspects of the strategy.
"I finally realized that I was communicating to employees the same way I shared information with my leadership team: taking a nuanced, multi-layered approach that constantly changed as we got new information," the CEO said. "But I finally realized that I wasn't being as simple and consistent as I needed to be.
"I had to teach myself to decide what I was going to say--based on what employees needed--and then say it over and over again, well past the point that I was tired of talking about it," explained the CEO.
So what does this mean to you, with your notoriously low threshold of boredom? Here are 5 things to keep in mind:
- Your team members aren't dumb, but they are busy and they have different perspectives than you do. So help them understand even complex issues by making communication as simple and straightforward as possible.
- Communication is not about you. You're communicating to engage team members, not polish your own image as a smart, driven leader.
- Great marketers, politicians and even preachers know that creating a core message framework is key to achieving focus and consistency. So decide on the three to five things that are most important to your organization, and make sure they're part of every major communication.
- Communicating once is almost never enough. Smart leaders keep repeating core messages, even past the point when they think everyone gets it. (They don't.)
- Encourage questions by asking them. When meeting with team members, ask, "What's preventing us from accomplishing this? What are you hearing from customers and suppliers that will help us or hurt us? What do we need to talk about to make this happen?" This rich dialogue will increase understanding better than any PowerPoint.