It’s happens to all of us. You’re driving along a highway, and someone suddenly cuts into your lane when they realize they are in an “exit only” lane. You know the lane is “exit only” because it is clearly marked. And yet, the other driver seems to be completely unaware.
This example is instructive for the communication challenges that leaders face. We think we’ve communicated clearly and repeatedly. But inevitably, someone’s actions indicate that the message didn’t get through. Why? Not paying attention? Intentional disregard? Communication failure?
Some “exit-only-oops” drivers clearly know that their lane is ending, and they’re just trying to race past a couple more cars. In other cases, the signs are so poor that it’s a wonder anyone gets it right. But in many cases, neither explanation appears to be correct. That makes distraction or lack of attention the most frequent culprits.
The people that you’re leading – both staff and volunteers – also have plenty of distractions. They may be thinking about a project that’s behind schedule or a problem at home. They may tune out because what’s being communicated doesn’t seem to apply to them or they think they’ve heard it before.
As a leader, you can’t prevent distractions. But you can work to overcome “exit-only-oops.” Assess your communication. Is it frequent enough? Is it effective? Is it unintentionally missing some important group(s)? If you’re not sure, ask for feedback. Just because the message is important, don’t assume that it’s been heard. Move from 1-way to 2-way communication, creating loops for people to tell you what they’ve heard or what they’re doing in light of the message. Look for evidence that the message is sinking in.
On the highway, I wish that the other driver would just exit and then re-enter rather than creating a dangerous situation with a last-minute lane change. But I don’t think that you want people to exit. So look for ways to improve your communications, getting everyone into the main lanes and moving together toward the vision.
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