Leaders Know How to Clarify

vase of flowers on kitchen counter

During the last week, my wife celebrated a birthday. I won’t tell you how old she is, but I will tell you I got her flowers and a nice gift. I took her to breakfast and to dinner with some lifelong friends. In short, I wanted her to feel special, like a princess. You know, receiving the “royal treatment.” She didn’t have to do dishes or clean the house. I not only bought her a gift and flowers, I bought her custom, high-end gluten-free cupcakes (with candles added) and a special card. It was her day and I made sure she felt special. And that’s exactly what I wanted to communicate to her. “It’s your birthday. You’re special. And I love you.” I showed her in a number of ways and told her several times, using different media that I loved her and I wanted to her to feel special. And to that end, I used multiple channels – face-to-face, text, social media and written.

She got the message. It was crystal clear. Flowers, card, present, breakfast, dinner, etc. Yeah, she got it. She was special and I loved her. No questions. No ambiguity. Crystal clear. I wish it were always so simple.

Communication (along with decision-making) is one of the non-negotiable keys to success in life. In relationships. In corporate work. In athletic endeavors. In church. In families.

And it’s hard, this communication thing. Ugh!

Within the past week, I wanted to meet a friend, a colleague, for dinner. I picked the location and the time. I said, “Are you okay to meet at 6pm for dinner at Timothy’s?” He said he’d prefer 5:30pm. I said, “Fine.” I asked if he needed directions and he said “No”, he’d look up the address. I said, “Great.” This was the middle of the afternoon.

I arrived at our destination at 5:25pm, went in, and sat down. I got a water. I texted my colleague and said, “I just sat down.” He replied, “Really?! I haven’t even left the office yet. I thought you’d come by and we’d go together.” He was 20 minutes away. Ugh!

The good news is that my colleague arrived (though late) and we shared a great meal together. Neither one of us was upset. But it sure drove a point home about the need for clarification. I thought we were “set” and on the same page when I confirmed the time and location with him, “6pm at Timothy’s.” He assumed that I’d come by and get him when I left the office. What he didn’t realize was that I’d gone by another one of our facilities late in the afternoon and I left from there to head directly to Timothy’s. I didn’t come back to the main office.

Now, my colleague is an intelligent man. So am I. And yet I assumed he knew to meet me at the prescribed location, Timothy’s, at 6pm. He assumed that since we were both in the main office, that I’d come by, tell him I was leaving and that he’d follow me. Oops! Communication failure. We didn’t seek clarification.

Several years ago when I was in a manufacturing executive role, my boss told me that I needed to hit 100k units each day during the last two quarters of the fiscal year. My team and I planned accordingly. We procured the appropriate raw materials, scheduled the required number of hours, and so on. We developed a detailed plan to hit 100k each day. And we executed the plan with excellence. We averaged just over 100k. Of course there was variation. That’s normal, right? Some days we hit 97k, other days we hit 109k. For the last two quarters of the year, we average over 110k units a day. I was thrilled. At least until my annual review.

At that point, I learned that my boss was really saying that 100k was the “minimum” I needed to hit each day. The minimum? Really? Ugh!!! … There’s a big difference between trying to average 100k a day and never going below 100k a day. We lacked clarification. Was 100k meant to be the “average” or the “minimum?” Lesson learned. Communication. Ugh!

Great communication is hard. Great leaders know how to clarify so that their communication is crystal clear. So that their direction is no ambiguous. So that everyone is on the same page. It takes work. It takes discipline. It takes persistence.

Yes, it’s hard. But great leaders know how to clarify. And they understand what’s at stake. They understand the cost of poor communication, unclear communication, and untimely communication. Do you?

Do you seek clarification upwards? Do you over clarify sideways and downwards? Do you understand what’s at stake?

Have a great week and remember to be diligent and clear in your communication!

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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