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A Failure to Communicate

The chief reason that CEOs fail to achieve their aims is not lack of vision, lack of ambition, or even lack of desire. No, according to a Fortune magazine article, the chief reason leaders fail is lack of execution.[3] Three years later, Fortune explored why corporations fail. Of the ten reasons cited, four ("see no evil, dysfunctional board, fearing the boss, [and] dangerous culture") can be attributed to a failure of another sort—a failure of communications.[4]

Further affirmation of communications as a leadership attribute comes from presidential historian Robert Dallek. He describes five key factors of a successful presidency: "vision, pragmatism, consensus-building, charisma, and trustworthiness."[5 ]Four of these factors depend heavily upon an ability to communicate on multiple levels. Presidents, like all leaders, need to be able to describe where they are going (vision), persuade people to come along with them (consensus), connect on a personal level (charisma), and demonstrate credibility, i.e., do what they say they will do (trust). Even pragmatism depends on communications. Leaders need to describe the options facing an organization and make tough decisions about those options. It is then their responsibility to communicate the reasoning behind their decisions and the results of those decisions. So in a very real sense, leadership effectiveness, both for presidents and for anyone else in a position of authority, depends to a high degree upon good communication skills.

It is easy to take communications for granted. After all, anyone who has the ability to climb into a position of authority over others can communicate, right? Wrong. Communications is seemingly the easiest of leadership behaviors, but experience tells us that it is often the hardest to carry out consistently. How often do we hear about bosses who fail to set expectations, fail to listen to what people tell them, and in the end fail to achieve the results they were hired to achieve? Communications itself is not difficult. Verbal expression and listening to others are common human behaviors. The reason people find communications difficult is that it takes so much commitment. Often leaders are so busy doing all the other important things related to managing systems and people that they simply run out of time and thus do not communicate effectively. And that's the reason so many leaders fail at communications. Communications requires discipline, thought, perseverance, and the willingness to do it again and again every day.

Effective leadership, both personal and corporate, is effective communications. Leaders and employees need to be in synch throughout the decision-making and implementation process. Leaders and employees need to understand one another. Leaders and employees also need to be able to exchange ideas in an open and honest way. These things can occur only through communications, in particular through what I refer to in this guide as leadership communications.

This guide is the result of many years of helping leaders at all levels communicate their messages in ways that reflect their own viewpoints as well as those of the organizations for which they work. Just as there is no single way to lead, there is no single way to communicate—in fact, there are countless ways. What matters most is the willingness to do it, with a consistent message, a constancy of purpose, and a frequency of performance. In other words, leaders communicate all the time and do it willingly in order to convey their goals, gain support for those goals, and demonstrate concern for all who follow them.

[3]Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin, "Why CEOs Fail," Fortune, June 21, 1999.

[4]Ram Charan and Jerry Useem, "Why Companies Fail," Fortune, May 27, 2002.

[5 ]Robert Dallek, Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents (New York: Hyperion, 1996), p. xx.

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