LEADERSHIP IN THE LEANING REST #3: INFORMATIVE & ACTIONABLE COMMUNICATION   Leave a comment

My definition of tactical fitness asserts that in any real “tactical” situation, mental ability is more important to a successful outcome than physical ability. “Tactical fitness” must integrate if not emphasize and prioritize mental fitness and situational capability. Based on this, anyone who tries to sell you a “tactical” fitness program that consists solely of physical exercise is working with a very small and ultimately unrealistic model of tactical fitness. If you review the testimony of successful candidates in BUD/S or other special operations assessment and selection processes, they consistently emphasize the premier importance of mental stamina in goal-setting, communication and decision-making. It’s not the big guys that consistently make it to the end, it’s the guys who can maintain a sharp and committed mind despite sleep deprivation, chaotic environments, and adverse conditions.

For this installment of Leadership in the Leaning Rest, I want to talk about informative communication and its importance for effective decision-making and problem-solving. Knowing how to formulate informative communication will set you apart as a capable leader, and as a capable member within a high performing team.

Let me begin by relating a story. Recently a co-worker came to me reporting that he had a number of questions from the field concerning my area of supervision. He described to me that agencies in the field reported they were not receiving information. When this happens, I go into a process of problem identification (“Where’s the breakdown?”) and formulating a targeted solution. So, I followed up with a series of questions. I asked him to identify the agencies who said they were not receiving information. He replied it was a focus group conversation and he could not identify the agencies. I asked him to identify the specific information that was not being received. He could not identify that for me either. Next I asked him to share with me any involved data he or the group had — a survey, meeting notes, anything! He said he did not have anything. At this point I am stymied. I think it is important to identify options as part of any problem-solving process, even in the absence of information. So, I asked him for a recommendation. He did not have one.

I will admit that the first reaction to my experience is some frustration with my co-worker. He was actually “on the scene” and in the best position to observe, collect information, and possibly even respond to the situation immediately … but did not do so. I did not need to ask “What did YOU do?” because it was clear from the other responses I had received him.

BUT, for me the smart thing to do is figure out that this is an opportunity for SELF-CHECK? — “Am I an informative communicator of actionable information to my co-workers and supervisor, or do I do the same thing?”

The way information was communicated in my experience did not enable me to be informed and engage a process of decision-making and problem-solving. This doesn’t mean there isn’t an actual problem still lurking out there, but it does highlight that the way information s being communicated in my work setting is disabling, not enabling when it comes to decision-making and problem-solving. I have to say that especially when you have co-workers or teammates reporting adverse or negative stories or hearsay, with no supporting data, what may be happening is either scapegoating or establishment of a negative work environment or culture. It’s a lose-lose deal for everyone and dangerous stuff.

So what’s the alternative? The alternative is self-checking my own communication style and making sure that when I communicate a situation to a teammate or supervisor, I cover the basics:

1. Who?
2. What?
3. When?
4. Where?
5. Why? (…as in “Why did it happen?” or “Why is it happening?”)

In addition, it is important to follow up #5 with at least one recommended option, if not three, that are aligned with my team and organization’s mission. Every time a problem gets reported to someone, it is separated one degree away from the problem situation itself. That separation can make it difficult to formulate a decision and a targeted effective response. The best way to minimize the risk that separation will cause error is to make sure the basics – #1 through #5 above – are covered. This is what your teammates are going to need in a tactical situation.

PRACTICAL EXERCISE: Have your team split up into pairs or triads and have each small group choose (or select for them) a report, memo or news article that details a situation requiring decision-making or problem-solving. The more immediate the situation, the better (i.e. choose events not theological problems). Select someone to verbally communicate the situation following my guidelines above. Have the other partner or partner pair track both the effectiveness and efficiency of the reporter’s communication. This is done in order to provide the person with feedback that will make them an effective and efficient communicator, and so that the partner and partner pair gets to pick up valuable points for their own Self-Check.

If you want to work on informative and actionable communication individually or with your team, integrating a version of the above practical exercise and other activities, contact me – Tom Delaney – at greatriverfitness@gmail.com and we will set it up!

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