com·mu·ni·cate (k -my n -k t )

Before giving any speech, whether to one’s team or an assembly of “strangers”, the accepted rule is to prepare and know the audience. Seth Macfarlane got a sense of it at the Academy Awards ceremony this past Sunday, fully aware and determined he was only going to host it once, and already knowing his side notes would resonate differently within the raft of guests of the now-Dolby Theatre. For anyone drawn to the so-called celebrities, there is plenty of media coverage to be fed with and be in the know at such an event. There may even be too much of it sometimes, and an overdose of information, relevant or not, tends to negate its purpose.

A client of mine had been rambling about how poorly their communication had been perceived, and received, internally. At first, browsing through the number of people to reach out to and the magnitude of information to be communicated, I thought it was a new issue, following their recent, yet expected, growth. I joined an all-day seminar catered to all leaders, or more accurately, team managers: that is where and when I discovered the truth (I know, it is a big word…). In spite of all means of communication available, everyone had a different definition of the word “leader” (and logically “leadership”): a smorgasbord of perceptions leading to a cacophonic list of presumed responsibilities towards their team members.

It turns out that some of the managers present were banging their heads against the wall of what they did not know: what their team members felt about the direction their team and/or the company were taking. Had they been sharing any of the messages with them (as opposed to “to them”)? Mostly: not. That two-way street idea had been taken for granted and rarely questioned, to finally get ignored. Unless interacting with a machine or piece of equipment (it happens when I train with a “dummy” at the dojo), a manager, let alone a leader, shall expect some feedback from her/his team. Checking, or asking for it, seems to be a meaningful first step to gauge possibilities.

Seth Macfarlane was entertaining, and, realistically, he did not have anything to lose. The managers I met that day, however, have a mission to carry and teams to drive, for the long run, with regular self-reflection to build balance within. Everybody matters, and communicating with everybody requires constant exercise and consistency (and that works for all hierarchy levels). I am human too, I make mistakes, and I usually learn the hard way (call it a grievance or another form of a fine). Listening is a major part of communication, and some of these managers may need some time to rebuild the foundations of trust they need to take their teams to the next level. It can be simple, not simple-minded.