Why Leaders Fail in Their Communication, and What to Do About It

Have you ever read the story of Chicken Little? Henny Penny believes imminent disaster is at hand when an acorn falls on her head, convincing her that the sky is falling. If you know the story, Henny Penny and her friends come to an abysmal end at the hand (or paws) of Foxey Loxey. If you were to look at the leadership and communication techniques of Henny Penny, there was little to be desired. Her tale could have really been titled “Chicken Little: Why I Ran Around Like My Head Was Cut Off.”

photo credit: aturkus via photopin cc
photo credit: aturkus via photopin cc

In the real world, how do two leaders both communicate that “imminent disaster,” yet one is able to turn it into a carrying out of the vision while the other produces choas and fear? I would like to offer a few ideas that may be helpful to you as a leader.

If you want a great story that communicates moving people from disaster to vision, go read the second chapter of the book of Nehemiah. The walls of Jerusalem were in disrepair and there was no one to rally the people…until Nehemiah turned his burden into action. I read this old testament account the other day and was struck by some strategic initiatives by Nehemiah for moving from problem to vision.

Personal Readiness

It says that Nehemiah went to Jerusalem for three days before doing anything. Now we do not know specifically what he did, but from his next actions, it seems reasonable that these days allowed for personal readiness and planning prior to taking action.

Personal Assessment

The next initiative Nehemiah took was to gather a few key leaders and move about the city at night, unbeknownst to the people, and assess the damage to the walls of his city. He got the facts firsthand and took in the full scope of the disaster before making any decision to communicate or rally the people. This is key.

Personal Plan

And finally, the narrative discloses that Nehemiah created a plan before he communicated with the leaders or the people who lived within the city.

And in the end, Nehemiah presents the problem factually, communicates a well-thought out solution, and rallies the people to the good work of rebuilding the walls of their great city, despite big opposition.

These principles provide an astounding example of how an effective leader moves from disaster to vision.

As a leader, when a problem “hits the fan,” do I react to the impending doom like Chicken Little and just stir up everyone around me with bad news? As leaders, we can throw people into a frenzy when we communicate high emotion combined with low preparation  – we have failed to ready ourselves on the front end with an authentic assessment of all sides of a situation. When a leader communicates a problem without evidence of forethought of a solution, trust is destroyed and chaos ensues.

How you communicate problems and solutions is critical to your success as a leader. A few re-calibrations in your own style may be the difference between collaborative success or epic failure.







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