June 2019

Great Leaders Clarify

by Jay Pullins

Few skills are more important to leading people than the ability to make our vision, expectations and instructions clear to others. Effectively communicating with our team members — up, down and laterally — has direct impact on their effectiveness and productivity. Time, dollars and effort are often wasted when teams act on misunderstood information.

Four C's for Effective Teams

Clear communication can be extremely empowering for our teams, because clarity produces confidence, and confidence produces courage and creativity.

Clarity → Confidence → Courage & Creativity

We want team members who make courageous decisions and come up with creative solutions when we’re not looking over their shoulders and when things don’t go as planned. But team members are not likely to work courageously and creatively if they are not confident they are doing what is expected. And they are not likely to have that confidence if their leader’s goals, expectations or instructions are unclear. So great leaders do their best, through both their words and actions, to ensure their team members have clarity.

I offer three suggestions for improving clarity of leadership communication, and recommend you pick just one of them to focus on for the next month.

The Medium is the Message

First, a leader must choose the proper medium for communicating the message. Often the communication method itself informs the receiver a great deal about the intended message. Choosing to communicate via email for example tells the receiver something about the importance the communicator puts on the message.

According to research, 55% of the message that a person hears face-to-face comes from the body language of the communicator, and another 38% is from the tone of voice of the communicator. That means only 7% of what is heard comes from the spoken words of the communicator!

This is important for a leader to keep in mind when deciding which medium to use. It’s easy to default to typing out a quick email or text message but, when we do, we deprive the receiver of the most helpful tools for understanding our message. If there is any emotion attached to the message, or if the message is likely to spark an emotional reaction in the recipient, I highly encourage leaders to ensure the recipient can see their face and hear their voice. This also gives the messenger the benefit of seeing and hearing the receiver’s response to their message. The technology for doing this is improving all the time, so geography is becoming less of an obstacle to effectively communicating face-to-face.

Plan the Message

That’s not to say that a leader should not write down what they want to communicate before beginning the conversation. Doing so helps the leader to clarify their message in their own mind first. This is also a good strategy for communicating more clearly. A pastor friend of mine likes to say, “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, it’s a fog in the pew.” In other words, if you’re unclear about your own message, the confusion, or potential for misunderstanding will only be magnified for the listeners. So writing down the words you want to say and rehearsing the message you want to deliver can help you enter the conversation with your own increased clarity, confidence and courage.

Less is More

Lastly, shorter, more concise communication is more effective that longer explanations for most personalities. The fewer words you use, the more powerful and clear those words are likely to be, especially in written communication. How often do you read a long email, letter or article all the way to the end? I’ll bet not very often. So keeping your message short and to the point can improve your likelihood of being understood.