Avoiding Communication Breakdowns

I have spent most of the last 10 days on the road for both workshops and conferences. The last part of this trip has been an all-day everyday training workshop focused on helping organizations systematically plan for the future. The key is to ask the question, “What are the possible implications of…?” and to extend those possible implications outward.

So, here is one for you: “What are the possible implications of breaking your cell phone while you are traveling alone?” That’s exactly what happened to me on Thursday night. No need to go into the autopsy report, but the phone, which had not been doing well, had an accident and… you get the point.

Is there ever a good time for that sort of thing to happen? I doubt it. This was neither a good time, nor the worst time. It was a bit of a challenge, however. It was too late on Thursday to do anything about it, and the workshop on Friday was from 8 am to 5 pm, so that day really afforded no opportunity to do anything about it either. I left for the airport early Saturday morning, and after a “short” layover and delayed plane, I finally arrived home just in time to go to the mall and get a new phone. For approximately 48 hours, I was off the grid. I felt like I was in an NCIS Episode or something.

I wasn’t really afraid of being lost. After all, I am paying my daughter’s college tuition, so I knew she’d send someone to find me. However, the experience did make me think about how we communicate as leaders. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Stay in touch with your team – To apply my training, “What are the possible implications of going from Wednesday night until Saturday night without contacting my family just because my phone broke?” Ugly. Very ugly. So, it was not an option. There are a lot of excuses we sometimes make for why we haven’t communicated clearly with our team, but most of those excuses communicate just one thing to the team: “You are not that important to me.” The burden of communication starts on your shoulders as a leader, so find a way.
  1. Broaden the scope of communication– My wife is not inclined to take calls from unknown telephone numbers, so I knew there was a good chance that if I called from the hotel, not only would she not answer it, she might not even listen to the voicemail. My plan was to email her. However, I also know that she doesn’t always look at her email, especially at night. But my kids are Millennials. They wake up every two hours to check their phones just in case ANYONE has left any type of message about anything! So, I emailed my wife and all three of my kids.  You guessed it. Instantly, I heard back from two of my kids, assuring me that they would tell Mom. The point—sometimes as leaders, we want to keep communication so tight that we exclude others who could actually help us achieve our goals.
  1. Know how to use technology – On top of the phone challenges, for reasons that I don’t understand, my laptop went on strike at the same time and refused to even consider the possibility that there was a thing called the internet to which it could wirelessly connect. (Seriously?  Now?) I had to do a system restore just to get connected to the internet and email my kids. And it didn’t work the first time… or the second time… but it did the third time. I’m not the most tech savvy person in the world. I am just a technology user. However, I do know enough to be able to do that, and it’s a good thing. Like it or not, we live in a technology-driven world.

The good news is that I got a new phone (toy), I am off the road for a while, I was reminded of some important things about communication, and my wife appreciated the fact that it was important to me to communicate with her. All in all, it wasn’t a bad experience after all.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

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