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Good Leaders Know How to Close the Gap

Having been in senior leadership positions for nearly 30 years, here is one thing I’ve found to be true: leaders often overestimate their ability to communicate and underestimate the hurdles to good communication.

In between lies the gap.

The bigger the gap, the longer it will take to execute. The bigger the gap, the bigger the potential for conflict will be.

Because of I’ve talked about it (and talked about it), I think I’ve communicated a message, strategy, or vision. In my mind, the message, strategy, or vision is crystal clear. In fact, I’m often thinking about it outside of meetings, rolling it over in my mind again and again.

As every leader discovers, what we believe is crystal clear isn’t always so clear to others on the team. There are many reasons for this:

  • Our message wasn’t as clear as we thought it was
  • Our teammate was distracted by other concerns
  • Our teammate filters the message through the lens of prior experiences
  • Our message was incomplete
  • Our teammate may not be fully onboard
  • Our timing was off
  • Our teammate doesn’t think about it as often as we do

Any of these reasons will create a gap between what a leader sees and what the team envisions.

Good leaders know they must close the gap. But how do you do it?

1. Don’t skip the details.

As leaders, our temptation is to go straight to the bottom line or to paint the big picture. We have insider knowledge; the problem is, it’s all inside our head. Because we have the curse of knowledge, we may inadvertently leave out important details.

Like movie executives, we produce a trailer that mashes up the highlights and tries to sell the movie in one-to-two minutes. A trailer may come in handy, but think of it like an appetizer – it’s not intended to be the main meal.

Lest you think you must drone on and one about every single detail — you don’t. In fact, that’s called filibustering. But you must provide enough detail that the picture comes together. If you have time restrictions, presentations can be supplemented with white papers or memos.

2. Don’t assume they understand what you just said.

Just because we’ve talked, it doesn’t mean the other person understands what we talked about. My readers who are marriage counselors know this is true!

Good communicators assume the other person doesn’t understand and proactively anticipates obstacles and hurdles. By working questions into your presentation, you are showing the listener respect. For example, you might say something like, “You are probably wondering how we are going to juggle two projects simultaneously …” This shows that you understand their situation and have proactively thought about solutions.

Another good way to find out if someone understands your message – ask them!

3. Follow-up for feedback.

One good way to close the communication gap is to follow-up in private. Often a teammate may not be willing to share a concern in a public setting but will offer it in private. Or, they may assume that everyone understood the message and they didn’t want to appear dumb or stupid.

4. Use multiple channels and methods.

Just like people learn in different ways, they also hear in different ways, too. Here’s the problem: leaders learn (and therefore communicate) in their own way as well. By nature, we default to the style that we are most comfortable with — and that works for every other person in the room who learns the same way we do.

Depending on the message, it might be helpful to craft the communication in collaboration with different types of people (ages, genders, artist, intellectual). Otherwise, we will suffer from our blindspots.

5. Know the best time for a message to be heard.

There are occasions when the message is so urgent it must be delivered immediately. I’ve learned you can’t schedule crisis, it just happens.

However, most of the time, we can be more intentional about creating the right environment to give our message the best opportunity to be understood. The right message delivered at the wrong time will get lost in the gap.

When is the best time to deliver your message? When your listener is best prepared to receive it. When it involves more than one recipient, you go with what is best for the overall team.

Not only are good leaders good at recognizing the gap, they are good at closing it, too.

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  • Professor at Warner University
  • masters in business administration (mba)
  • presenter at the WFX National Conference
  • former president, Church Planters of the Rockies
  • helped start 2 for-profit tech companies

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