Leadership never takes place in a vacuum. There are always unique circumstances, numerous stakeholders, pressures, deadlines, and the list goes on.
And all of those things must be considered appropriately—though not necessarily evenly—in a timely manner. As someone in a recent SGR class quipped, “Managing people is hard work!”
Leadership is complicated. For example, one city leader shared his struggle with trying to respect an employee’s right to confidentiality while, at the same time, keeping the camaraderie high on the team. They knew that their colleague was spending inordinate amounts of time in the supervisor’s office with the door closed. This employee would come to his office, shut the door, and share some very personal things that were going on in his life.
To make things more “complicated”, these things were affecting his job performance. The team sometimes asked questions about this man when he wasn’t there. How tempting to share some “insider information” that would have satisfied the critics.
Not so fast, my friend. Throwing someone under the bus may be tempting, but it’s not ethical, and it’s not even effective.
This leader cared about his employee and guarded his confidence. But what about the rest of the team? This man’s performance was affecting them, so didn’t they have a right to some explanation? And what about other “hidden stakeholders”? It’s complicated!
The leader shared enough information with his team to confirm that it was a tough situation and that he, as the supervisor, acknowledged the difficulty it was causing them; but he did this all without sharing any private information or divulging any details. He refused to throw the man under the bus, and by his example, he assured the rest of his team that he wouldn’t do that to them, either.
The team weathered the storm, the employee made it through the crisis, and that leader’s stature grew in everyone’s eyes.
In his book, The Power of Communication, Helio Fred Garcia reminds us of the close connection between leadership and communication. He points out that in every situation, there are at least four decisions that leaders need to carefully make in relation to communication.
- What will be said? Too little or too much can both be equally damaging.
- Who will say it? It’s not always clear, but it is always important.
- When will it be said? To control the narrative, you have to have good timing.
- Where will it be said? Settings “frame” the message like backgrounds for photographs.
Leadership isn’t easy, but harnessing the power of communication is a tool that every leader can learn to use. You never know when it will come in very handy.