The world is different today. To be successful, a leader can no longer just set a course and order people around. People expect a different quality and quantity of communication. Be honest and redundant. When it comes to communication, there’s no way to do too much.
This past week I have been in Atlanta, attending the annual meeting of the International Coach Federation. As always, it has been a fun-filled time with lots of great opportunities to meet people, attend workshops, and hear excellent speakers. The theme of this year’s conference has been Partnering with People: Building Connections that Change the World. It has certainly lived up to that billing, with participation from people representing at least 18 countries.
As I listened to the speakers and presenters at this event, I was struck by how many practiced, with true artistry, the three cardinal rules of communication: tell them what’s you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said. In other words, like the three secrets of real estate (location, location, location), great speakers communicate, communicate, communicate.
The same can be said of successful people everywhere. They communicate early and often. This truth came home to me recently in another context, as I was the 4:30 pace team leader for the Baltimore marathon. Pace teams exist to assist runners who want to achieve a particular marathon finish time. The participants do not have to worry about whether they are running too fast at the start or too slow at the end. All they have to do is follow the leader.
The pace teams at the Baltimore marathon, ranging from 3:10 to five hours, were very well organized. Pace team leaders and participants alike knew exactly what to expect, beginning months before the event. As a result, everyone had a positive and successful experience. What made it work so well was communication. The organizer used email and snail mail to keep everyone up to date, informed, and appreciated. The communications were frequent and clear.
I’ve taken part in other pace team programs that were not as well organized. Occasional, delayed, or absent communication generates negative energy. Fewer people participate and there is less momentum from year to year. When people don’t know what to expect and what’s going on, they will not achieve their full potential. The lack of communication precipitates internal as well as external interference, which gets in the way of success.
Perhaps that’s why Lenny Wilkens asserts that communication is a key ingredient to successful leadership. Wilkens, an NBA coach with a strong record of accomplishment as well as the head coach of the gold medal winning Olympic men’s basketball team in 1996, observes that for coaches to be successful, “they’ve got to be able to communicate. They’ve got to be able to get everyone on the same wavelength.”
In this day and age communication goes beyond direction. Perhaps there was a time when people could get things done by barking orders. Leaders could get away with being autocratic. If that day ever was, it is no more. The changes in society have shifted what communication is all about, even when it comes to such traditionally hierarchical organizations as professional sports teams. The coach can no longer afford to be the boss.
Failing to understand that is part of why Bobby Knight, the quintessential dictator, got into so much trouble in Indiana. Wilkens, on the other hand, understands that “society in general and the athlete in particular are a little different today. Things have changed. Communication remains one of the keys in coaching. But today communication has to do more. It has to teach fundamentals, develop maturity, and build trust. If you build that trust, then people are receptive to what you’re talking about.” Without that trust, people will listen to nothing you have to say.
Anyone who wants to be successful in today’s world would do well to heed Wilkens’ advice. The powerful tyrant is out; the trustworthy leader is in. If we don’t communicate in ways that build trust, people will neither work for us nor with us. Things will degenerate into politics and resistance until people end up shooting down themselves, each other, and the things they care about.
How do we communicate as trustworthy leaders? We do it early and often, so people have the time to process the communication and influence the outcome. We do it clearly and openly, so people have the ability to understand the communication and provide feedback. We do it honestly and reliably, so people have the inclination to trust the communication and as well as the communicator.
When those ingredients are present, when they mark the communication quality of a leader, relationship, or organization, the chances for success go way up. More resources are brought to bear on the challenge at hand. Better ideas and strategies are generated. Morale can reach all-time highs. When those ingredients are absent, the chances for success go way down. Anger, fear, and confusion become an unfortunate part of everything that happens. More often than not, people end up failing to get the job done.
How will it be for you? If you want to be successful, communicate, communicate, communicate. In today’s world, there’s no other way to win.
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I was in your pace group for the Baltimore marathon and wanted to say thank you! Your tips and tricks for hitting the hills, breathing easy, and maintaining pace were great and the jokes really kept everyone … groaning 🙂 It was my first marathon and I had a great experience. I dropped out of the group at about mile 21 when my head started spinning, but I still finished at 4:33 and was very happy with the time (luckily you mentioned your web address early in the race while my brain was still capable of absorbing info!). Thanks again and best of luck with your coaching practice. (Ed. Note: Thank you! Read more on the Baltimore marathon next week.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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