Good leadership requires good communication.  That is something with which all leaders will agree.  Many leaders will also agree that communication can often be quite frustrating.  Getting accurate and timely information from subordinate teams and staffs is possibly the most frustrating.  What can leaders do to improve this flow of communication?  Let me suggest four things to think about.

Assume the Responsibility for Communication

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment.  When it comes to communication, have we set up our subordinate teams and staffs for success?  Or are we expecting them just to figure it out?

Having served in the Army for 20 years, I recall a cardinal doctrine that was fundamental to military communications.  This doctrine stated that the higher-level organization was responsible for establishing communication with subordinate organizations.

I encourage leaders to apply this doctrine to their own situations.  Leaders, take responsibility for establishing and facilitating communication with your subordinate teams and staffs.  Ensure your subordinates have the resources and understand the standards, expectations, and procedures for keeping you informed.

Take the Initiative in Communication

Do not stop at just assuming the responsibility for establishing communication.  Take the initiative to both establish and maintain communication.  Reach out frequently to your subordinates.  Provide them opportunities to update you on what’s important.  Further,  give them specific guidance on what information you still need from them and when you need it.

When I was leading large staffs, I made it a point to make personal visits to all my staff sections.  My goal was to visit each section as often as I could.  Some, I visited every week.  Others, for various reasons, I was only able to visit less frequency.  This enabled me not only to interact with staff leads, but also other members of the staff sections.  By doing this, I facilitated the flow of communication.

Be Swift to Hear and Slow to Speak

This is my favorite governing thought for communication.  In this context, however, I want to share a specific application that can have significant impacts on the communication between leaders and subordinates.  This is particularly important when the information in question involves “bad news.”

Don’t shoot the messenger.

Let’s face it, our subordinates are naturally going to be reluctant to share bad news with us.  No one wants to be the person that makes the boss angry about something that is not going according to plan.  Think how much more difficult it is to be the bearer of bad news when the boss has a reputation for taking out his/her frustration immediately on the person who just shared the news.  Subordinates will find all sorts of excuses to avoid delivering such messages, including blaming other team members.

Fix Problems Not Blame

This final thought is a follow up to the last one.  Focus on the issue and not on blaming the messenger.  This is another of the many applications of “be swift to hear and slow to speak” in my communication training programs.  Take some time to listen to what is being told to you.  Consider it carefully. (I would suggest using the Smart Talk approach.)  This will allow you to cool off a little and your response back to your subordinate can be a more effective way to fix the problem or issue that has led to the bad news.

 

While not an exhaustive treatment of the issue, these 4 tips can start you on the way to improve communication with your subordinate teams and staffs.  Take some time to honestly assess whether any of these issues might be hindering effective communication in your organization and take action now.

As always, be swift to hear and slow to speak.

rjm