Blog post

Mixed Messages

19 April 2019

Some time ago I attended a banquet with hundreds of energetic participants. In the midst of the keynote address, the fire alarm was activated. An emphatic, automated message directed everyone to “Evacuate the building immediately!” Participants looked at each other with confusion as a property representative quickly proclaimed, “There is no need to leave the facility.”

The automated alarm brazenly repeated its earlier message to evacuate the building. Seconds later the property representative again said, “Do not leave; this is a false alarm”.

By this time, some attendees left the event while others opted to stay. The mixed messages led to mixed results as attendees did not know which directive to follow. Thankfully it was soon proven that the automated message had indeed been a false alarm.

I was one of the many attendees who opted to stay, and I’m so glad I did. The memorable keynote was inspirational; the event was very well executed by its sponsor; and attendees enjoyed wonderful conversation with colleagues… all of which were desired results that could have been derailed due to the mixed messages of evacuate versus stay.

In the midst of the confusion, it occurred to me that similar situations frequently take place in Corporate America when leaders send mixed messages to their employees. These mixed messages contribute to teams’ falling short of achieving the right results.

One of the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership is that “Gracious Leaders Require Accountability”. Within this chapter, I share my conviction that:

Accountability starts and stops with leaders as it is the leaders’ responsibility to be crystal clear with employees regarding expectations.

When leaders send mixed messages to followers regarding the work to be completed, it’s like blindfolding employees, spinning them around, giving them darts and telling them to hit the targets. The desired results are not likely to occur.

I have found that when employees receive clear messages regarding what is expected of them, they are actually relieved because they know exactly what they are to accomplish. There is no confusion about the work to be done… no evacuate versus stay… no peddle-brake, peddle-brake which can cause employee whiplash in the workplace.

When expectations are not clearly expressed, leaders should not be surprised when employees are frustrated and teams fail to deliver. In these situations, it is actually the leader who has failed the team because he or she was not purposeful in defining expectations in advance.

Let me be crystal clear. Mixed messages prevent us from optimizing our most precious and expensive organizational assets … our employees!

As you communicate with your team every day, I invite you to embrace the reality that accountability really does start and stop with the leader. Avoid mixed messages at all costs and be completely clear with your team members regarding the work you need them to accomplish.

For more information about accountability tips that are applicable within organizations of all types, please see Chapter 12 in Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before available on Amazon or on my website.

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