Leadership lessons can come from the unlikeliest of sources and, while the following story may be funny, it makes a serious point: good communication is central to effective leadership, and when wires get crossed, mistakes are made.

Lucky dogs

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and, since our three adult sons were unable to come home to see their mum, my wife and I decided that we’d instead make a fuss of her mother. So I spent much of Saturday evening preparing a meal which we would drive down to her parents’ house the following morning. I decided to make one of my favourite Delia Smith recipes – chicken breasts stuffed with porcini – and happily my efforts paid off as everyone agreed the lunch was delicious. However, there were two chicken portions left over, so we put them in the fridge for my parents-in-law to enjoy the next day.

After my father-in-law had taken their two whippets out for a post-lunch walk, my mother-in-law called through to her husband from the other room:

“If they’re hungry, you can give them the leftover chicken in the fridge.”

However, rather than a different plate of leftover chicken bits (as intended), he gave the dogs the lovingly stuffed, organic, free-range chicken! My mother-in-law was horrified at the mistake and her husband received something of a telling off, but it could be said that it was the lack of clarity in the communication (“give them the leftover chicken”) that was the cause of the debacle. That said, perhaps he could have been more vigilant and checked which plate of chicken was being referred to, since there were two plates in the fridge.

Either way, the absence of good communication led to an avoidable mistake, the result of which was two very lucky dogs, a marital falling-out and a slightly disgruntled chef!

Clarity is king

When it comes to communication, clarity is king. We’re all guilty of being unclear at times, but in a leadership situation significant responsibility lies with the person giving direction to be absolutely clear. If we as leaders are expecting our team to perform at their best and achieve the desired outcome, we must develop good communication skills.

For me, the two most important lessons from ‘chickengate’ are:

  1. As a leader, make sure you include enough information in your direction or instruction for people to make the right decision;
  2. As a recipient, make sure you don’t just go with your first option.

Good communication means being unambiguous, using repetition if necessary, and also sense-checking that we have been understood correctly. Whether we’re communicating one-to-one or to a group, once we’ve issued our instructions or articulated our vision, we must ensure that nothing has been lost in translation, by asking them to repeat it back to us. Isn’t it interesting that listening is actually an intrinsic part of giving direction?

For cookery tips your dogs will love, I recommend Delia Smith’s excellent recipe books. For more advice on being an effective leader please browse our blog, or get in touch to find out about our leadership development programmes.

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