Do You Have the Communication Mentality of a Non-Leader?

For Father’s Day this year my wife gave me the gift of getting to spend an hour alone with each of our three kids. There is little in the world I enjoy more than getting to be with my kids one-on-one. With the hustle and bustle of a family of five, such opportunities are rare. Each kid was given the choice of how to spend the hour with me. For her hour, our 4-year old daughter decided that she and I would go swimming.

We arrived at our local workout facility and jumped in the pool. There were LOTS of people swimming that afternoon. Not long after getting into the water, I was told to move to a different part of the pool by the lifeguard. Two lanes of the four-lane pool were reserved for lap swimmers of which there were only three. The remaining 23 people were to share the other 1/2 of the pool. I asked where information about lane availability was communicated while sharing that we’d chosen our time specifically because it was listed as an open swim time online. An employee of the workout facility responded by pointing us to the very same online chart we consulted before we came to the pool. She shared that most people are confused by the chart. When I suggested that the chart might need to be improved to more effectively communicate its information, she turned to her co-worker and said about me, “If he can’t read the chart, that’s his problem.”

You can see the obvious contradiction in the employee’s reaction. (A) She confirmed that the chart did a poor job of communicating its information. (B) It’s the chart reader’s fault for not understanding it. This is the response of a non-leader. Non-leaders allow themselves the luxury of blaming others when messages aren’t accurately received. Non-leaders avoid the responsibility of putting forth the effort and creativity necessary for communication to be effective.

While this may seem like an example far from the boardrooms of upper management, similar ideas are uttered there. I've visited with senior executives and divisional vice presidents who share that their employees "just don't get it" without considering their own contributions to that reality. These leaders essentially say, "I'm going to blame my followers for the ineffective communication coming out of my mouth." In such moments, they become non-leaders.

If we are to have the mentality of truly effective leaders, we must never lose sight of the fact that we are responsible, not merely for putting communication out to those we lead, but for how it lands on them. When our followers "don't get it," we need to adjust the frequency, volume, and creativity of our communication so they do get it. Mature leaders take full responsibility for how their communication lands on, sticks with, and engages their followers.

Former United States President Harry S. Truman is famous for the having a sign on his desk which read, "The buck stops here!" The sign reminded him that as the leader of the country, he was ultimately responsible for its direction and decisions. As the leader, there was no one for him to blame except himself if things were not as they needed to be.

When it comes to communication, we need to have President Truman's mentality. If our followers don't understand what we are saying, it is not our followers fault; it's our fault. When we take full responsibility for the results of our communication—rather than believing we've led well by simply attempting to communicate—we cross the line from non-leader to leader.

Photo attribution: By Frank Gatteri, United States Army Signal Corps [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stay tuned next week when explore a communication method that supercharges the impact of the messages we deliver.

Share Your Thoughts:  Have you ever taken responsibility for the end result of your communication after you were tempted to blame others for not understanding what you were trying to communicate? If so, tell us about it. We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.Click here to receive free postings from Tim Spiker and The Aperio. As a thank you, you'll receive the first two chapters of The Only Leaders Worth Following: Why Some Leaders Succeed, Others Fail, and How the Quality of Our Lives Hangs in the Balance.