Being in a leadership role comes with an understanding that any action or statement you make may come under scrutiny. Effective leaders manage this situation proactively. They establish protocols so questions are answered, and their team has regular access to important information, even when it’s in developmental stages.
Leaders Live in Glass Houses
Because your decisions and actions affect many people, there will always be interest in their conception, development, and eventual impact. A stray phrase mentioned in an unforeseen context can lead to a cycle of speculations and rumors.
Even highly functioning organizations are not immune to this occurrence. Left unattended and unaddressed, the speculation cycle can become a wildfire.
Work to build a strong level of trust with your team through consistency, thoughtfulness, and regular follow-through. If you do, you’ll get to experience the observations of your team from a perspective of interest and curiosity. Establishing trust, along with providing regular channels of accurate communication, ensures the rumor mill doesn’t spin to your company’s detriment.
Environments where positional authority is the norm and communication is spotty and suspect will have a different experience. Any mention of change or deviation will typically result in speculation. Team members often fill in missing information with worst-case scenarios.
Uncontrolled speculation and innuendo impact productivity. They can also result in a dynamic where, within a short period of time, speculation becomes reality.
In such a situation, leaders end up playing from behind. They’re forced to deny rumors and redirect speculation, rather than implementing more effective methods of proactive communication. Trying to stamp out wildfires is a poor use of your time and attention.
Prior to initiating casual conversations about potential changes, ask yourself the following reflective questions:
- Does the conversation or speculative course of action include foresight?
- What’s the best way to explore this topic? Should it be confidential or floated at a team meeting so input and initial reactions can be gauged?
- Does this topic have the potential to undermine your team’s trust in you?
- Do the potential gains from having this conversation now outweigh the potential harm?
Being intentional and careful about speaking off-the-cuff is an important leadership discipline. Trust takes a long time to engender and a mere moment to lose.
How Great Teams Communicate
Great leaders are known for their intentional establishment of norms and values, particularly in the area of communication. These norms and values often begin by expressing how communication should take place between individuals and teams. For example:
- No raised voices
- Disagreements should focus on issues, rather than people
- All communication should be professional and thoughtful
There’s also the matter of protocols and commitments on the part of leadership. Leaders should commit to discussing, in a transparent and timely manner, any issues or changes that could potentially impact their teams.
Committing to norms and values requires an investment of time and attention but in periods of stress, it proves its value. Communication is managed and non-productive speculation is redirected through a trusted process. Any potentially sensitive issues are placed in a setting of familiarity, within which the team has already experienced success.
Coast Guard crews train to perform their duties during harsh weather and difficult conditions, rather than when seas are calm and the sky is sunny. The USCG motto is Semper Paratus, which means “always ready.”
You have an opportunity to build your team’s capacity to be ready for challenging situations involving change. Prepare and train your team via protocols and an adherence to norms and values. They’ll be far more likely to emerge with a successful outcome, rather than spending their time on trust-dissolving, pointless, and damaging speculation.
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Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired-Up team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired-Up, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams and align operation practices to delighting the customer and drive breakthrough results.