At one of my management retreats, I asked the 30 or so people in the room, "How many of you think that your supervisors or peers do an excellent job at communicating with you?" Only one or two people raised their hands.
Then I asked, "How many of you think you do a good job communicating with your peers?" That time, four or five people raised their hands. In my opinion, they were all wrong. And here's why:
When it comes to communication, no one gets it right all the time.
In fact, I would suggest that we rarely get it right. Everybody knows that communication is an essential part of every relationship, whether it's a marriage, a partnership, a business or a manager/owner and an employee. And yet, no matter how hard we try, we are still more times than not misquoted, misunderstood, and taken out of context.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to get better, though, because getting it right is vital to building something great --a family, a business, anything.
Here's the problem: We humans are, for the most part, communication stoppers. Every person I know wants to receive communication-- they want to know everything-- but they are reluctant to give communication back or distribute it liberally and accurately.
We have all heard that information is power, and because that's true we tend to hoard it. As a rule, that's a huge mistake. There is no one solution to our constant communication dilemma, but we can work at improving it every day.
Let's talk about just one way to improve: Listening to the person (or people) in your organization closest to the customer.
As a manager at any level, you shouldn't make assumptions. If you are not the one in direct contact with your customers on a daily basis, you have to communicate with the person who is, to get the truth about how your organization is doing and how your customers feel about every aspect of what you offer them.
Bottom line: Successful owners and managers have to listen to their employees. Those in authority need to pay careful attention to the troops on the ground because they know things you cannot know, because they are there and they have a frontline view.
It's arrogance, pure and simple, to think that you can know what they know.
Unfortunately, bad information flow and exchange is the norm in many organizations. People just get used to it, and pretty soon you and your organization are going over the precipice and nobody knows why.
Because they think they know best, many CEOs issue edicts and say, "this is what we're going to do," instead of listening and heeding the advice and feedback from people who deal with the customer. They do this, in part, because they feel that if they admit that they don't know best, they'll somehow look inferior or won't be perceived as a good CEO.
People ask me how I've successfully created three of the top tax franchises? I would suggest that it has happened in large part because I have learned to be a better listener. I've worked at it.
I'm secure enough in my leadership to listen to the bright and energetic people who work with me. They are, after all, the boots on the ground and they know what the customer really wants. At Liberty, we print out a letter that we give to every customer with her tax return. And, when we originally wrote this letter, we listened intently to the people closest to our customer and then,... we let them write it.
And why not? Why in the world would I think I could do that better than the person who actually communicates the most with the customer?
Just think about it... these workers give out two million letters with tax returns. Why would a CEO think he could create a better letter than the people who are closest to the customer? It just makes sense that they should design the letter; we should just implement it.
There are hundreds of issues like this in every organization, including yours. Be honest. Take a hard look at how you communicate as a leader. Face the many ways that you fall short. Each one is an opportunity to improve as a listener.
I'll make this guarantee: While none of us will likely ever perfect it, making an effort each day to improve as a listener will make you a better leader, and help you build a great organization.
My new, expanded version of iCompete: How My Extraordinary Strategy for Winning Can Be Yours is now available for preorder on Amazon.com.