Do you give clarity to your teams?
How often do you give clarity to your teams?
How often do you think about the language you use with your teams?
No, I’m not talking about whether you swear or use terms that might be offensive. Just wondering if the words you use mean the same thing to other people as they mean to you.
They often don’t. And when what you think you have said is taken to mean something completely different, things can get complicated.
For example, one of my leadership coaching clients shared how they asked a team member to do a ‘paper’ on X. The team member wrote the paper and delivered it in plenty of time for the deadline. However, the leader noticed it didn’t cover what it needed to and had an unprofessional tone.
So what did the leader do?
Knowing she had to present it at an executive meeting the following day, she smiled and thanked the team member. Then proceeded to go home and rewrite the paper herself!
Is this crazy? Should the leader have rewritten the paper herself?
You might be thinking the leader isn’t delegating properly. Why did she not hand the paper back for a rewrite?
This type of example is very common and when you dig a bit deeper it reveals that the problem lies in the original instruction given to the team member.
When I’m supporting leaders around this topic, I use the term ‘Fat Words’ or ‘Bulky Words’ to describe words that seem to say everything, but actually could mean too many different things.
For example, in my coaching workshops, we start by defining the term ‘coaching’. What usually follows is a nice colourful mind map with ‘coaching’ in the middle, and lots of words coming off to describe what this means. Job done! Box ticked!
Except, for me, the words are just too bulky – they’re fat words!
They’re ‘fat’ and ‘bulky’ because they’re too big. Each of us has attached a different meaning to them based on our experience. So, to be sure that we all agree what they mean, they need breaking down. Otherwise, all we end up with is vagueness and uncertainty.
For example, we might decide that coaching is about supporting people.
In essence, I agree with this. However, some leaders may think they are supporting people, based on their definition of support. Yet their team might not even think of the word support, based on their experience of them.
Another great ‘Fat or Bulky Word’ which comes up is trust. As a leader, you may think you trust your team based on your definition and experience of the word. But your team may say you don’t!
Our perception of the situation is based on our interpretation of the word. And when interpretations are different, engagement can drop, mistakes are made and leaders end up re-doing delegated tasks.
Are you saying what you think you’re saying?
To make sure everyone’s on the same page, leaders need to dig deeper to understand what potential ‘Fat or Bulky Words’ mean to everyone involved.
When we discuss issues such as team members producing poor or unprofessional papers, leaders often feel they’ve explained what needs to be done but digging deeper we usually discover they’ve given brief instructions in a very short space of time. Sometimes they simply send an email, giving little or no opportunity for the team member to question or clarify, and lots of opportunity for misinterpretation!
Going back to the original example with my leadership coaching client, during our discussions, it became apparent that they were expecting their team to ‘just know’ what was required – after all, they were basic instructions and they’d been working there for enough time. But as we’ve seen, what YOU think of as a ‘paper’ could mean something completely different to somebody else.
The experience my leadership client had tells you how important it is to be specific about your expectations. After all, no one wants to be working late at home re-doing tasks you’ve delegated to your team.
What my client did, and what you can do straight away
- Challenge yourself to think about the meaning of the ‘fat or bulky word’ for yourself
- Take an extra five minutes to involve the team member in the task at the beginning
- Clarify what the ‘fat or bulky word’ means for the team member
- Clarify the expectations and outcome of the task
By following these steps, it will lead to a better understanding of the task at hand and is also a great way to role model engaging behaviours whilst holding the team member accountable for the outcome.
Want to be more specific with your team and hold them accountable?
It’s time to put yourself first and get some one-to-one, personalised support. Support from someone outside your organisation who’ll give you the space you need to speak your mind, listen without judgement, encourage you to open up and listen to your inner self, look at things from different perspectives, and come up with your own answers.
Andrea helps you focus on leading yourself first, so you can be a great leader. Start getting your regular dose of leadership tips and inspiration with the ‘Leadership Breather’ – encouraging you to give yourself a breather and take 5 minutes for you.