Published by Geoff Kelly, Kelly Strategic Influence
Wisdom to lead minds:
"A leader has two important characteristics; first, he is going somewhere;
second, he is able to persuade other people to go with him."
Maximilien F. Robespierre
Why Most Leaders Fail To Connect
Every modern culture on the planet has become the most information overloaded, over communicated society in its history. In 2003 researchers at the University of Southern California inferred that information was growing at a staggering 35% a year, making it more and more difficult to reach people amid the growing clutter.
To protect themselves from this information deluge, people are turning off. They scan rather than read most material, and pay attention only to what directly interests them.
On top of that, trust in institutions is lower than ever before. Churches, corporations, governments, and even professions such as the law and medicine, have seen their trust scores steadily drop in surveys over the last 30 years.
So organisations are failing to cut through; especially the large majority that rely on an information dumping strategy of promoting themselves and their activities to earn attention and support. Their primary targets are often even busier and more information overloaded than most, they don’t trust them, and this pressure is worsening year by year.
You often hear even the most senior executives and board members bemoan their inability to cut through both internally and externally with comments like:
“Why don’t they just get it? We provide them with so much information, yet it’s like we have to keep explaining it all again, then again and again.” Or another common one in response to frustrating nagging criticism of organisational efforts: “If only they knew how much effort we are putting into this area. What we need are more good news stories about what we are achieving.”
These comments miss the mark on at least two counts:
- People are impatient with leaders who don’t understand them well enough, or don’t care enough, to connect the dots for them. They need context. They need to see quickly why it is relevant to them, and how the issue connects to wider issues and trends. For example, client executives who commissioned research into what key experts thought of their efforts to communicate their health, safety and environment performance were stunned that even the experts weren’t confident they understood the information. They were getting too much detail, and not enough context to distil the meaning they needed.
- People switch-off to leaders who talk mainly about themselves or their organisations. This shouldn’t surprise given the unpopularity of self-centred colleagues and acquaintances who turn every conversation into a story about them. Yet many executives are disappointed when their strenuous communication about their ideas and organisations fails to gain others’ attention, let alone conviction.
The most influential leaders continuously focus on understanding and communicating about the main challenges and aims of the people they want to influence. They don’t try to create meaning for everyone at the same time, because they know that is the path to low impact. They ask and answer questions like: “Who are the few individuals and groups who will make the most difference on this specific issue?” And for each of those “What is it about this issue that potentially most concerns or excites them?”
They know that this focus and understanding is the rock on which they can build their influence and impact. Those who don’t understand this create a wasteland of misunderstanding and clutter that causes projects to derail, reputations to ebb, and organisations to founder.
Ask yourself: “Are you getting the buy-in you need from important people and groups both inside and outside your organisation?” If not, you could make your first step to test whether you understand enough about what they care about to get them to care enough about you and your issues.
More next month...
Geoff Kelly works with leaders who are frustrated that others don't fully support their ideas and strategies. He mainly works with corporate leaders around the world, but also leaders in Government and Not for Profit. He is also a popular speaker on this and related subjects. See www.kellystrategicinfluence.com.au, email [email protected] or call +613 9678 9218 for more information
© 2006 Geoff Kelly All rights reserved.
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