"I don't know how I could have been any clearer."
Drink: Dirty vodka martini
Pairing: A mid-shelf dirty vodka martini pairs great with middle management miscommunications, especially when the person ordering doesn't actually like olives. One martini is all it takes to get the miscommunications flowing.
A director level leader is getting coaching because they are having a hard time activating their team. They just don't understand how their team members are missing the mark. Now, a decent leader is spiraling into micromanaging, has lost confidence in their team's competence, and relationships are strained increasing the social anxiety of the team. Both the director's and managers' performance is tanking, and you're drowning in meetings before and after meetings just trying to clarify what's going on.
The Real Talk
When anxiety is high, Mercury is retrograding or people are undergoing change (isn't that always?), communication is likely to degrade.
Here's the thing - it doesn't matter how clearly you think you communicated your message. If it didn't get through, it doesn't count, and you're still responsible for the broader impact as a leader. You're also responsible for elevating your team's communication skills... in-person, virtually, across cultures, over multiple messaging apps, navigating polarizing politics, through gif memes, with AI chatbots... something leaders of yesteryear didn't have to deal with.
There are a million reasons why communication fails: someone didn't eat breakfast, got bad ChatGPT advice, laughed at the wrong meme, had a stressful meeting right before yours, instructions were ambiguous, cultural nuance, nervousness to ask for clarity due to power dynamics...
How are modern leaders supposed to manage their own communication, let alone the communication of their teams?!
Directors and senior leaders play a critical role in translating and getting their teams to operationalize strategic initiatives. In a perfect world, Directors should be able to delegate down tasks and operations to their managers without having to follow up on every single detail. They set expectations and outcomes to achieve, then let their managers shine in accomplishing them. But if they can't effectively communicate a vision, strategy and expectations about how and when something gets done, they not only sabotage the team, they sabotage their own leadership.
1) Agree on a centralized communication platform and etiquette. Most directors I know can't keep track of who texted, Teamsed, emailed, Slacked or actually called to tell them something. If you've got a shared goal, write it down in a shared location so everyone knows where to reference it.
2) Be clear. Really, really clear. Lose the jargon, acronyms, adjectives and adverbs. Slay your assumptions. (Check out the peanut butter video below). Speak it under a sixth grade reading level and with as few words as possible.
3) Ask for a paraphrase at the end of every conversation. This might feel awkward to do at first, especially with other leaders, but it works. Try these phrases.
4) Make it a team habit to check for clarity and confirm your understanding. Leave at least five minutes at the end of every meeting to confirm what's next.