You can’t know everything

In a meeting with one of my clients, a member of the leadership team mentioned that she was surprised when a member of the team she manages asked about a new development in another area of the business and this leader didn’t know about it.

The implication was that there was a communication breakdown at the leadership level and to her team it appeared that she was out of the loop.

I pushed back. Was it something she needed to know?

Growing businesses like the ones I work with require different things from their leaders. Some changes are obvious. Others are less so.

In the early days, everyone is a doer. But as you grow, leaders must become supervisors, managers or, well, leaders. Having to do everything will limit the growth potential of the company.

That part of leadership development is pretty straightforward.

But adaptation is also required when those leaders come together as a leadership team. They must play a new role there as well.

Just as they have to trust their team to perform their responsibilities, they must also trust other members of the leadership team to lead their part of the business.

That means that they can’t know everything going on because that would place another limit on the growth of the business. It would also make leadership team meetings a long series of informational updates. Anyone ever been in one of those?

As a business grows, you must become comfortable focusing your attention on fewer and more important aspects of the business. That goes for each leader individually and as a leadership team.

She asked how you know what you should share as a leadership team and what you shouldn’t. There’s only one way: constant communication.

If she felt like she really needed to know the information that surprised her, she should simply say to the leader of that part of the business, “My team surprised me with that and it would have been nice to know in advance.”

But I challenged her first to think hard about whether or not she really needed to know about it. If not, she could have simply replied to her team member by saying, “As the business continues growing I’m getting used no longer knowing everything that’s going on. But I have full confidence that the leader of that part of the business is leading well and will keep me in the loop whenever necessary.”

The only business where you can know everything is a small one. If you want it to grow, sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you can’t know everything.

Coherence

Rick was kind enough to send me a copy of his excellent book, Coherence, at a time that we were exploring a partnership. Coherence is such a rich way to think about marketing and Rick employs the word masterfully. In a world of so much formulaic communication, Rick issues a clarion call to the truth that comes through coherence.

Anyone in higher education should read this book, but anyone outside education (like me) can still benefit. My favorite section was the three Satellites that any organization can use to build a coherent communication plan. I recognized much that I have already incorporated in our approach to defining the culture of the organizations we work with and picked up a couple of new tips.

This updated edition was written early in the COVID-19 pandemic and has some useful thoughts for how Rick’s constituents can respond. Now that we’re nearly a year into the pandemic, it’s easy to see that he was right: there will be no return to normal. And in the new normal, one expects that Coherence will be even more important.