The Ultimate Test for Seeing if You’re Communicating Enough as a Leader

If I were to ask you, “How do you know if you’re communicating enough?” And, ‘What proof do you have of your answer?” How would you respond? Would you go by your own intuition? Or would you offer some kind of proof?

Now, before you answer, let me share with you that as an outside consultant, I’ve rarely met a leader who has; or worked with an organization where the people of that organization would offer an affirmative answer to my question.

However, when I ask leaders this question, they quite frequently respond with an affirmative answer. So what gives? Why is there such great disparity between the two groups?

I. Could Selection Bias Be the Problem

Hey, we all have it. We all like to find evidence that confirms what we already believe to be true while, at the same time, throwing out any evidence that contradicts that belief. When Sally regularly affirms how much she appreciates it when we communicate with her and keep her in the loop—we think, “I’m doing a great job communicating.”

But when Frank keeps complaining that he doesn’t know what’s going on. Or Angie seems confused about what she should be working on, we all tend to think, “Frank has an attitude problem,” and “Angie is slow and unproductive.”

Now, Frank and Angie may have issues, but their issues just might stem from a lack of communication or a lack of clarity of communication from us—but we’ll never see that because of selection bias (also known as “seeing only validation”). If we keep throwing out any evidence that doesn’t fit our belief system, we’ll never see reality. And if we don’t see what’s really there, we’ll never be able to make the changes necessary for improvement.

II. Could Your Calendar/To Do List Be the Problem

Another reason why so many leaders think they’re communicating more effectively than they are, is that their calendars and “to do” lists are often so packed that they can barely breathe. Sound familiar?

Well, what happens when your “to do” list is packed to overflowing? Exactly, you start tackling every item as fast as you can. And once you complete it, you move on to the next … NEVER TO RETURN to what you’ve already checked off the list!

Classic example, every January most owners and CEOs who do vision-casting, cast a vision for their company for the coming for year in the classic, “State of the Union” approach. As soon as they’re done, they check that box and move on to the next item—after all, they have 659 other items on their “to do” list that need to get done—completely forgetting that vision leaks within hours, if not days.

For vision to be effective, it needs to be repeated over and over again. But that’s hard to do when you have 659 other items on your “to do” list screaming for your attention.

III. Could Your Ego Be the Problem

Don’t take this the wrong way, and it’s not meant to be cruel, but most leaders hate to repeat themselves. Why? Because they often hate being perceived as less than intelligent. In general, people who keep saying the same thing over and over again are often perceived as “intellectual lite” (to be polite :-).

Since most leaders like to be perceived as smart, intelligent, competent human beings, one of the ways we do that is by not repeating ourselves. Instead, we keep coming up with and sharing new ideas and new insights—thinking that we’re being great communicators–when, in fact, the opposite is happening.

IV. So, What’s the Solution

The solution is easy, whatever your rate of communication is with your team, your employees, your customers, your vendors, etc. follow the following guidelines.

1. Double your communication!

If you send out one email a month, send out two. If you cast vision once a week, start casting it twice a week (and keep doubling it). If you create a company video once every six months, create one every quarter. Don’t worry about perfection, just take whatever you’re currently doing, and do it more. It’s virtually impossible to communicate too much (no matter what you think).

2. Simplify your communication!

Forget complexity and intricacy. Whenever you or I are trying to lead a team, complexity is a communication nightmare. Even worse, the larger the organization, the simpler the communication needs to be. My favorite large company saying from several years ago comes from Nike when their marching orders were simply, “Crush Adidas!” Those two words say a lot, don’t they?

If you want a quick test for whether or not your communication was simple enough, ask someone a week later, “What did I say?” If they can’t repeat it close to verbatim, your message wasn’t simple enough.

3. Stop trusting people’s memories.

The typical leader will say, “I told them _____.” When you or I ask, “How often did you tell them?” what will they say? Exactly, “I told them once.” Sorry. Once doesn’t work for most of us. It doesn’t work for our kids. And it doesn’t work for our direct reports and employees.

So stop thinking you can say anything one time. If you’re leading anyone, and you want to be a great leader, you have to think “Multiple times” not once. Moreover, the old marketing adage is, “For every three times you send a message out, your intended recipient will miss it twice.

My Favorite Leadership Communication Test

If you’d like a quick test (or what we could call “The Ultimate Test”) to know if you’re communicating enough here it is

Are your people mimicking you?

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? If you’ve even been a part of an organization/team where the leader has a habit of saying the same thing over and over again, the people of that organization start to do their own impressions of that leader (when the leader isn’t present :-). “Oh, you know what Bill is going to say to that idea, don’t you? “There’s only one thing that matters around here at XYZ company and that is …”

Yes, it may be playful, and it may come at your expense at times—but the key thing to remember (if your ego isn’t in the way) is that “everyone knows what you’re going to say” because you’ve said it so much! That’s when you know you’ve been saying it enough.

Or, to put it another way, when you’re tired of saying the same thing over and over again—that’s probably when most of your people are just starting to get it.

So here’s my assignment for you.  For this coming quarter, what are the one to three most important messages you need to communicate to your people over and over again?

Once you have clarity on what they are,  make it your goal to say those things so often this quarter that your people will start mimicking you. If that happens, you’ll know for sure that you’re actually communicating enough! It’s the ultimate test!

To your accelerated success!

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