If I could summarize this topic in a single sentence it would be this: “Too often we assume if we know something, then others must know it as well.” It’s as if we automatically devalue what we know, and that can hurt us or make it hard on others. Perhaps you’ve even been the victim of this kind of thinking. Here’s what it can look like: A boss or leader introduces a new idea or plan with only the thinnest of explanations. No need to go into more detail, the boss assumes, because EVERYBODY gets this stuff. It’s obvious, isn’t it? From there, the team struggles as they try to figure out how to move ahead while being reluctant to ask for further explanation.
Pretty much a recipe for disaster, or at the very least productivity problems ahead. Sound familiar? This same scenario can happen because a plan is rushed or ill-conceived but give some thought to the idea I am proposing, because it likely happens more often than we realize.
It is said baseball legend Ted Williams was a terrible manager for this very reason. Williams, generally considered the greatest hitter to have ever played the game, went on to manage the Washington Senator’s in the early 1970’s with very little success. Why? It seems he could do it but couldn’t teach it. Players described Williams scowling at them when they walked back to the dugout after striking out, saying things like, “Any idiot could have hit that pitch!” Williams perhaps could have hit that pitch, but he showed very little interest or aptitude for explaining to others how to do it. The same questions are being asked these days about basketball great and now team owner Michael Jordan. He could do it, but can he teach it or set up a system to make it happen for others? So far, the team Jordan owns has been a consistent basement dweller.
Some of this thinking, I believe, comes from the “discounting” process we too often employ around our own expertise. It’s as if we automatically think “Well, I’m no Einstein and I’ve figured it out, so everyone else is right here with me. Obviously there’s no need to belabor the details.” Instead, without being overly impressed with our own thinking, we should realize our knowledge base is very much a product of our own experience and influences. Be prepared to fully share your thoughts or plans. Your audience will let you know if they get it. Far better to set a strong foundation then have to come back later to fix the damage.
The other way this issue can hit us if we choose not to speak up because we feel “everybody knows this” when in fact they don’t. How many times have we discovered someone in the room actually had a solution for a problem but was reluctant to speak up?
I have two solutions for this issue: First, great leaders create a safe space where people can, within reason, speak up. Second, we all need to “tell our story” well. It has become something I am more and more passionate about and has become a theme when I am in front of audiences. (Go to my website to see a quick new video on the topic.)
Final thought? We need great ideas and full participation in a competitive, fast moving world. Value your own knowledge and make sure you are getting the full benefit of everyone on your team!
Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.