Leaders’ Biggest Mistake in Q1: the Communication Illusion Trap

Business leader talking to his team to avoid communication illusion trap

Alan Mulally, the former CEO who saved Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Ford Motor Company, was recognized by Fortune as the best business leader in the world in 2014. In a series of conversations that I had with Alan, he made a point about communications that is especially relevant in the first quarter of the year. I subsequently discovered this quote in Twenty-First Century Jet in which he elaborates:

“One of my most favorite expressions is that the biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred. We think when we express ourselves that, because we generally understand what we think, the person that we are expressing it to understands in the same way. Well, in my experience I’ve found that’s very difficult.

When you are creating something, you have to recognize that it’s the interaction that will allow everybody to come to a fundamental understanding of what it’s supposed to do, how it’s going to be made. And I think we should always be striving to have an environment that allows those interactions to happen…” (italics mine)

Alan’s observation, that it’s the interaction that allows everyone to get on the same page, is especially relevant this time of year when people working together need to have a shared understanding about certain matters. A major mistake leaders make in Q1 is to not schedule time for interaction with the people they are responsible for leading. The result is that a communication illusion trap develops, and it in turn undermines performance.

How to Avoid the Communication Illusion Trap

To avoid the communication illusion trap, schedule time with the people you are responsible for leading in Q1. The purpose of your meeting is to ensure that they understand the following:

  • Where are we going this year?
  • Why is it important to get there?
  • How are we going to get there (i.e., what is our plan, including the top 3-5 priorities)?
  • What’s my role?

Consider including other issues that your team needs to be on the same page about.

It’s important that this meeting not be limited to one-way communication. Instead, incorporate times for interaction to ensure the communication is fully received and understood.

One way to bring about interaction is to share your plan for the year, let people know that you realize you don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and that you want to seek their opinions and ideas, and then ask them to share their thoughts about “what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s missing” from the plan. Be quiet and listen closely to what you hear.

This approach offers several benefits:

  • You will gain knowledge that will help you improve the plan.
  • Your team will gain a clearer understanding of your plan so they can align their behavior to the plan.
  • Your team will feel more connected to you because you are showing that you value them and that you have the humility to seek their opinions before making final decisions.

The Bottom Line

By investing time interacting with your team now, you will avoid the communication illusion trap while boosting strategic alignment and employee engagement. This will help get your team off to a strong start in the new year.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

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