Every leadership guru tells you one needs to communicate in order to be a good leader. In this instalment, we will look at the notion of communication.
I agree it is good to communicate; but what we need to understand is what then should be communicated; for all exchanges of information between the leader and the team can be regarded as communication.
Some leaders underestimate the communication issue and are inclined to believe that the process of “telling” their team about the operational information is all communication is about. Leaders then bang their heads on walls when they realise that their communication of voluminous statistics and updates is not bringing the team morale they want. When you communicate you need to communicate for a purpose; there should be a “profitable” raison d’etre for the communication that a leader engages in with their team.
The first motive a leader should communicate with their team is to assure team members feel that they are in the right place by being on their team. Imagine a leader who boastfully walks down the corridor to their subordinates and at the top of their voice says, “What have you done for me lately?”, or worse still one who would say, “Are you making money for me?”
What really would be the purpose of such communication from a leader? Is it about boasting? Is it about demeaning the team members? Whatever the reasons are for a leader to say such words; surely none of these reasons can be closer than a ten foot pole distance from the desire to motivate the team. Would it kill a leader to just forget about being pompous and simply say, “I am glad you are on my team”.
Guess what, such positive communication is what motivating communication is made of. Who does not want to be part of a team where they feel appreciated?
Have you ever walked in the middle of the bush and you are following someone, yet you do not know where you are going or how far you still have to walk to get to the destination. This reminds me of my youth years.
I remember a journey I had to undertake with my cousin in some thick bush in Gokwe. Ask anyone who knows Gokwe, they will tell you that the area has some virgin lands that are endowed with real thickets.
My cousin asked me to accompany him to visit his heart-throb in a village which was supposed to be at a distance of several kilometres from my grandmother’s homestead. I gladly agreed; little did I know that we were going to walk for more than three hours in the middle of a dense forest.
At some point I saw huge cat-like paw marks along the path we were walking along. I asked my cousin what animal had such paws and he said it could have been that some lions had been on the same path earlier.
I was too frightened to continue with the journey, yet i realised I could not return home on my own. My host was determined to get to his destination whose distance only he knew. I had no option but to oblige. after a further two hours of walking, we arrived at his destination. The story of the roaring lions on our journey back home will fill the rest of the column.
All I know is that if my cousin was to ask me to accompany him down the road in the middle of a city. I will not easily agree to do so without first verifying the facts.
If I had been told that the journey was that long, five hours one way, and that we were going through the wild, I could have made a decision about whether to embark on the journey or not with enough information.
Similarly, teams are always on journeys to achieve the goals that are set for them by their leaders. Yet if the team does not have an understanding of the full journey ahead of them, they will just come along for the sake of preserving their jobs; there will be little to no commitment.
In local lingo in Zimbabwe there is a saying which goes like “moving like a cat in a sack”. This is derived from the practice where if one gets a cat from another homestead in the villages, the acquired cat has to be transported in a sack.
The reason for this is that a cat could remember the journey it would have taken from one village to another irrespective of the distance travelled, for as long as the journey was made on foot. By putting the cat in a sack, one ensures that it does not get to understand the geography of the path taken; this allows the cat to settle in its new home without the risk of running away back to its original home.
Leaders who do not tell their teams the vision being pursued, are literally treating their team like cats that are being transported in a sack. The team needs to understand how much energy they still need to expend before they reach their destination, and to know the destination when they reach it.
My unfortunate “cat-in-the-sack” journey with my cousin was frustrating because I did not know how far I had to walk, nor did I know what the actual destination was. My cousin kept me going for hours on end by simply telling me along the journey, “Don’t worry, we are about to reach our destination.”
I only realised that I was not ready for such a long journey when we reached the destination. Did I say reaching the destination; yeah that is what I thought for a second until I realised that I had to walk the same long distance back home after nightfall. The reality that struck me was the realisation that this was just half of the work done as I still had to return home, yet I was tired beyond the word tired in my own experience.
Without a vision, the team gets tired of guessing, their weariness will explode at the point when they fathom the remaining distance to the actual destination of achieving the real goals.
That is the point when the team figures out that they used their energy on less important issues. The moment the team realises the actual goals mid-way through the journey, they may chose to leave when they realise they will be too tired to get to the destination through the remaining jungle.
I felt spent and used when I realised that my actual personal goal of getting back home when so far away removed from my cousin’s goals. If I had an option to quit I could have done so for I was not ready for the journey back home through a jungle where I had seen paw marks that my cousin had indicated were those of lions.
Leaders should always remember that a well-communicated business vision will assist team members in aligning their personal goals to the organisational goals. When the team knows the vision they will choose to stay for the journey out of their own will. Do you know that a substantial number of what leader’s perceive as performance problems within their team are as a result a lack of clear expectations and goals?
Sam Hlabati specialises in Systems Thinking and Reward Management. He holds the following certifications: Senior Professional Human Resources®, Global Remuneration Professional®, Certified Compensation Professional® and an MBA in Systems Thinking. You can join the discussion through email on firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on twitter @samhlabati.