It was during a crisis involving spy planes and the Soviet Union that President John F. Kennedy once said, “There is always some S.O.B who doesn’t get the word.” JFK had seen war up close and was then leading our nation through the Cold War. He knew that often the greatest threat is not the enemy but the guy out there somewhere who doesn’t get the information he needs. The course of nations turns on such matters.
JFK’s sentence helps us. Here’s why. It is your job as a leader to make sure everyone gets the word. Disaster can result otherwise.
In the work I do with leaders, I often make a request. Let me go into your organization and walk among your people before anyone knows who I am. In time, they’ll figure out what I’m doing. Initially, though, I like to be given a sort of semi-official status so people will talk to me but won’t fear that what they say to me will get them in trouble. It won’t, and I don’t want them to shut down on me.
Now, I do this roaming around while I’m also talking to the top people. What this allows me to see is the gap in communication between the leaders and the led. You would be stunned to discover how wide this gap often is. You would also be stunned to learn the effect of this gap.
When people don’t have the information they need—when they aren’t informed and thus made to feel like a valued member of a team—they close off. They do their jobs, keep their heads down, feel like cogs in a machine, and don’t expect much more of themselves or others. They become bureaucrats. They become functionaries. They do what they do for the paycheck, but they stop feeling like part of a purpose, a vision, or a meaningful plan. They also make mistakes because they don’t have the information they need to make good decisions.
Your job is to make sure everyone gets the word. I want to suggest a single term to guide you and to make part of your leadership culture. Over-Communicate. That’s what you want to do. That’s what you want to teach your fellow leaders to do. Over-communicate. Make sure your team hears what it needs to hear, hears it often, hears it in a variety of ways, hears it with authority, and, if possible, is rewarded for knowing it. This is what builds a secure, coordinated, happy, effective work force.
We almost went to war during JFK’s presidency because some guy didn’t get the word. Don’t let that happen in your firm. And remember, your goal isn’t just to avoid bad things. It is to build good things with effective communication.