Communication Problems Are Symptoms, Not Causes

We frequently hear from leaders that they want to establish environments that better engage (and thereby improve productivity of) their teams. We subsequently hear from teams that their leaders, however brilliant and articulate they may be, seem to sew ambiguity wherever they go. The consistent result is massive inefficiency paired with a general sense of overwork or burnout as everyone attempts to pursue their perceived (different) priorities.

The first barrier to solving this problem is that it is consistently labeled “a communications problem”. Sure, communication is a problem—but that’s a symptom, not a cause. The underlying problem is twofold: a lack of clarity and consistency of vision, and the absence of a specific process by which the vision is honed into process. If you do not know what you’re aiming for, you cannot possibly deliver a clear or consistent message that orients your team to the purpose of the work you are asking them to do. If your team doesn’t understand the purpose, they cannot make intentional choices about how to deliver on the outcomes you want. 

The second barrier to solving this problem is the tendency to swing radically between aloof vision and intense micromanagement. Leaders are unclear about their vision, their teams scatter to try to deliver, and then leaders grow frustrated and dive in to right the ship. Breaking this cycle also requires understanding the vision clarity described above. 

The key behavioral shift for leaders is to stop reacting to the symptoms and start unpacking the underlying problems until you reach the point of your leadership locus of control. If your team isn’t pursuing the right priorities, or isn’t delivering the quality you’re looking for, consider whether you’ve done the work to develop and deliver a clear and consistent vision.