Clueless Leadership! Can You Bear It? | The Perils of Non-Communication

Do I have to say it too? “Communication is the backbone of good leadership.” Hasn’t it been said enough already? Aren’t there enough books, training programs, and speeches out there to drive home the point?

Then why are so many people in leadership positions clueless? Why don’t they communicate well, at the right time, and with the right message?

It must be faulty wiring.

There seem to be four extremes. Leaders who:

  • Have nothing to say
  • Don’t know what to say or how to say it
  • Talk but say nothing

It’s so frustrating. As employees we need and want information that positions us to do great work, make sound decisions, and support the company. It’s what builds our morale, loyalty, optimism, and willingness to do more.

Unfortunately, we often work for people who hoard what they know, believing that their value and influence are connected to their “insider” information.

When leaders are disconnected from us, they often have no idea about what information we find useful like:

  • The state of the business
  • The attitudes of customers
  • The competition
  • Our performance
  • Career opportunities
  • New products, equipment, and services
  • Processes and policies 

When these leaders aren’t tuned into us, we’re left out.

The light only comes on if you throw the switch. 

One day I got a call from a veterinarian with a large and small animal practice.  At the time I was doing a good bit of veterinary practice management consulting.

He told me that he thought he had a problem I could help him with.

“What’s your situation?” I asked.

“My associate veterinarian is leaving at the end of his one year contract,” he explained.

“I see. What’s unique about that?”

”He’s the tenth one to leave in ten years,” he replied.

“Do you know why?” I asked.

“No. That’s why I’m calling you.”

So I went and I watched and asked questions. It didn’t take long to see that the owner was a man who wanted no part of management. He just wanted to treat animals, particularly farm animals. He didn’t want to deal with employees, so he never engaged with them.

The silence of the lambs tells the story.

While conducting my practice walk-through, I saw the associate veterinarian and the technician in the operating room where they had delivered twin lambs by C-section. The ewe’s incision was being closed and the tech was on the floor trying to give CPR to the two lambs. She needed help.

I put down my papers and got down on the floor with her, taking one of the lambs and blowing into its nostrils, trying to get its lungs to work.

While the young veterinarian, the tech, and I were giving our all, the owner walked into the OR, looked at the ewe and at us. He then turned and walked out, never saying a word. No encouragement. No suggestions. No solace. Nothing.

In spite of our efforts, both lambs died. The ewe had been in labor too long. We were all distraught, though relieved that the ewe lived.

In my consulting report, I gave a straight-forward description of the factors that likely contributed to the departure of those ten associates. Ultimately, the owner closed his small animal practice to become a crop farmer, providing veterinary services to farm animals on his own. He realized his limitations and refocused on doing what he loved and did best.

It’s a pity when leaders don’t see how their inability to communicate negatively impacts their employees, themselves, and the business. So much time and energy are lost.

Follow the clues. Solve the mysteries.  

Poor communicators are costly to their companies. They waste time, cause errors, drive away good employees, and gum up the works. To be business fit we have to communicate effectively. It’s the backbone of staying connected, attracting a following, and taking the lead. When things aren’t going quite right for you, look at how you’re communicating. You’ll never regret it!

Have you had a clueless boss? Was communication his/her issue or something else? We’re dying to know!

6 thoughts on “Clueless Leadership! Can You Bear It? | The Perils of Non-Communication

  1. Many people love their animals but don’t understand people. Dealing with people and animals is the same. I think, if people who don’t relate to other people, but DO relate to their animals, could transpose their relationships to the people with whom they work, they could provide their people with huge communications that they could build on and work with to everybody’s advantage. This is provided that they have a clear and understandable relationship with their animal(s).

    • You’re so right, Annette. I think this was part of the problem here. The veterinarian couldn’t relate interpersonally very well and saw no value in it. There were other things going on in that practice that made it plain that it wasn’t what he wanted to do. He’d become a prisoner of his choice to open a practice rather than be a veterinarian calling on farmers. He also loved to be out on the tractor by himself. I was happy when he found his happy place. It was great to hear from you. Thanks for the terrific insight!

  2. After I left the non-profit world and worked for a Fortune 500 company my first boss was a decent person and a lousy communicator. His choice for directing or correcting anyone and everyone was to be gruff and loud. Often his tone made it hard to “hear” the content of his words. It also created a situation where his employees wouldn’t come to him with problems, which made the problems grow.

    • Great observation! No message plus an alienating delivery do not good communications make! I love your insight about people not being able to hear beyond the gruff tone and the consequences of it. It’s interesting how communications weaknesses spawn others problems, creating a vicious cycle. Thanks, as always, for sharing a story with an aha message!

  3. I got a lot out of reading this post, Dawn. I could not agree with you more that communication is a key ingredient in leadership. If the brass doesn’t less employees know what is happening or what is expected, employees often feel that no one cares *what* they do and it takes a great deal of self-motivation to keep doing the right thing for the organization. This post needs to be in the hands of every leader in every organization. Thank you so much for great insight, as usual!

    • You are so right, Nikki. Lack of communication is an abdication of leadership responsibilities. You make a powerful point about employees who are information deprived feeling that “no one cares what they do.” The short and long-term consequences of that are significant. If those leaders knew what turmoil their silence was creating and how it would come back an bite them, perhaps they’d do things differently. But I’m not really sure about that! Thanks for this terrific comment for your generous endorsement of the post!

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