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Editorial Team
28 Nov 2018

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The Perfect Leadership Communication in an Imperfect World

leadership communication

3 Leaders. 3 Behemoths. Legions of Communication Lessons 

‘Just do it’ seems to be the tagline of modern organizational ecosystems (other than Nike). How? Because organizations don’t like being asked intelligent questions. In some way, a sense of status quo promotes a sense of harmony. Employees are not allowed to perceive things through common sense and it gives corporate an easy escape from disagreements. After all, just playing along saves a lot of time.  

This phenomenon has been coined ‘functional stupidity’ wherein long-term organizational goals are compromised for short-term gains, organizational myopia subtly creates blind spots, and biases of managers are passed over to generations of employees. Functional stupidity throws innovation, reflection, and critical and constructive thinking out of the door and brings symbolism vis-a-vis substance in a ring where the substance has higher chances of beaten black and blue.

A top-down approach is never going to work. When things go wrong in an organizational landscape, employees look at the top management to respond and act. When things go right, they want to be appreciated for the work they have done. Fallacy, you may call it. But this is how it is. The conflicts and crises are inevitable. How leaders respond to them has the potential to change things. Take a leaf out of the books of the best leaders of the world.           

The Elon Musk’s way

Here is a paraphrased version of an email Elon Musk sent to his employees— communication must be the shortest path to reach from A to B. A chain of command leads to poor communication between departments working under the same organizational umbrella which, consequently, halts the organization from reaching its zenith.  Suppose A has some work with B but due to a hierarchy or chain of command standardized communication, A doesn’t go to B directly. Here is the detour A takes: A reaches C, C goes to D, D communicates with E, E contacts F who finally tells B what the work is. All these unnecessary steps cost time and money.  Elon’s parameter for common sense matches Scott Adams’ Dilbert definition of rules— “If following a 'company rule' is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.” 

Communication Etiquettes to Steal from Elon Musk 

Positive affirmations: He congratulates his employees for the labor that goes into the model production. Not to mention these models are unprecedented and 100% success rate is highly dubious. Though production goals have always missed the deadline, Musk never misses an opportunity to appreciate his employees.    

The art of expecting: Musk is a master of vision. If he says he will create a way through black holes then you might be tempted to point its uncertainty in this lifetime. But Musk will make you believe. He coaxes employees to deal in a kind of precision and accuracy that is so fail-proof that measuring tapes can be faulty but not their measurements. He channels in every parameter of emotional intelligence to win people’s passion into work.    

Take criticisms in your stride: Critics say only profits can make a business, well, business. Tesla hasn’t been able to make moolah greater than what went into it. But that doesn’t stop Elon from justifying learning from mistakes. No company lacks inadequacies or the beaucoup of negative comments which come flying by, but what it learns from them is important. Tesla has also been in the news for all the wrong reasons. There have been talks of unionization, racial biases, and no break availability.  There’s a lot of criticism which comes their way. But it doesn’t hamper their growth.    

More productivity. Fewer meetings: A company shouldn’t be only about meetings, and then some more meetings. Meetings must be called only when they are really urgent and requests must be sent to only those who are indispensable. If employees think a meeting is serving no purpose to them then they must leave.  

The Tim Cook’s way  

In the light of hurricane Harvey, Tim Cook sent a powerful email to all Apple employees. 

“As Harvey was making landfall, we put in motion critical donation programs. Apple is making it easy for customers to donate directly to the American Red Cross through the App Store, iTunes, and apple.com, and we're matching employee donations two-for-one. Thanks to your generosity and that of our users, Apple has helped raise more than $1 million in just the past few days. That's in addition to the $2 million Apple pledged to the Red Cross over the weekend.” 

Communication Etiquettes to Steal from Tim Cook 

Acknowledge what is:  Cut straight to the chase without beating about the bush. Strategic communication empathetically deals with the crises and educates everyone on what the company plan is. 

Clear and succinct: The email is clear about how Apple is planning to help employees who are directly affected by the hurricane. He lets employees know how they can donate to the cause and what needs to be/needn’t be disclosed to the media.  

The Dara Khosrowshahi Vs Travis Kalanick way 

An earlier communique sent by ex-CEO of Uber, Travis Kalanick, is full of sexual explicit. It carries a kind of frat boy or bro code language pushed down the employees’ throat with suggestions on who to have sex with and what is permissible (drinks and drugs), where to puke, and all nincompoop.  Here is what he wrote:

“Have a great fucking time. Do not have sex with another employee UNLESS a) you have asked that person for that privilege and they have responded with an emphatic "YES! I will have sex with you" AND b) the two (or more) of you do not work in the same chain of command. Yes, that means that Travis will be celibate on this trip.” 

Contrarily, the email sent by Dara Khosrowshahi, the current CEO of Uber, gets full points for being right on all the right communication parameters. The mail came as an aftermath of London’s transport authority, Transport for London (TfL)’s, decision to halt Uber’s licenses on charges of unmet corporate responsibility (apathy with respect to public safety and security implications). Here is what Dara’s mail said:

“While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I've learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection. So it's worth examining how we got here. The truth is that there is a high cost for a bad reputation. Irrespective of whether we did everything that is being said about us in London today (and to be clear, I don't think we did), it really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours, where actions in one part of the world can have serious consequences in another.”

Communication Etiquettes to Steal from Dara Khosrowshahi 

Vulnerability as an underrated personal dimension: Everyone expects the CEO of one of the largest companies on the planet to be perfect. Dara differs. He isn’t afraid to expose vulnerabilities: fear of competition, fear of facing failures when stepping out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t show he is weak. It just shows he is human and employees can easily relate to it and find a safe space to innovate, discuss, experiment, fail, and then succeed.        

Self-reflection: The mail recognizes the consequences of a legacy sidelined by myriad allegations. Dara calls out to employees saying bad reputation is costing them business. He wants employees to introspect how bad future incidents can be prevented by being aware in the present.    

Motivation: Motivation hits on the emotional quotient of employees. Dara knows how a company’s bottom-line is hugely dependent on employees’ active participation and contribution.  

Here’s what he said: “We will show that Uber is not just a really great product, but a really great company that is meaningfully contributing to society, beyond its business and its bottom line.”

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