I watched a TV series recently which explored various facets of the US President’s work, including his special modes of transportation (Air Force One plane, Marine One helicopter, ‘The Beast’ limousine, and even Ground Force One—the President’s tour bus!) and meeting spaces (e.g. the White House Situation Room).
Amidst all of the special technology and equipment employed in each of these work spaces, what struck me was that the most specialized and precious technology was associated with communication—keeping the President in constant contact with advisors, military, etc. is deemed absolutely vital. He must be able to talk to anybody at anytime, from anywhere.
Despite all the faults of the US government, they seem to have one thing right: communication is at the heart of all leadership and followership, all group endeavors. And it’s something to be invested in, protected, uninterrupted, and guaranteed.
There is no relationship, at any level, without communication. Even when viewing the highest echelons of an organization (such as the President), they are effectively powerless if they cannot communicate.
And that communication cannot simply be one-way, downward: edicts being issued from on high. It must be back-and-forth.
I think of any number of nuclear submarine films (The Hunt for Red October, Hunter Killer, etc.) where so much hinges on the submarine being able to surface in order to send its report and to receive its latest orders: leaving things to guesswork or to only sending or only receiving a transmission is not enough to ensure a correct course of action that will align with the most recent and accurate sitrep.
How often do we fiercely guard, and earnestly fight for, the ability to communicate timely and clearly in our leader-follower dynamics? Do we invest as significantly in ensuring there is access and opportunity for the two-way flow of information (and influence)? Do we do everything possible to provide a platform for speaking and listening—giving & receiving?
Perhaps in this always-on, digitally connected age, we may stray into unrealistic communication expectations: for example, responses to messages in mere moments, any time of day or night.
But what about our expectations concerning the quality of our communication? What about real dialogue, rather than merely interlaced monologues? The President is able to convene meetings of advisors, whether virtually or in person, at nearly any time, enabling him to listen and learn, and then to speak and take action.
I have previously enjoyed some close working relationships with colleagues, partnering together—from a distance—on various projects. One of the early conversations in each in endeavor is, rightly, “How are we going to communicate?” Email? WhatsApp? Signal? Trello? Basecamp? Google Classroom? Zoom? Skype? VSee? Google Meet? MS Teams? GoToMeeting? We’ve used all these, and each serves a slightly different purpose and meets different needs.
Having the conversation about the communication is what’s important. Ensuring connectivity in a way that promotes dialogue. Collaboration and coordination requires communication.
If the level of your group effectiveness seems underwhelming, if collaboration seems forced or not worth the effort, then perhaps it’s time for a checkup, to see if some of your communication systems need retooling, an upgrade based upon current realities and needs.
Have the conversation about communication.
And here’s a few free resources that can help:
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —