Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Posts Tagged ‘communication process

Communication Has to Start With Telling the Truth

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Warren Buffett (L), chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and David Rubenstein (R), president of the Economic Club of Washington, participate in a discussion during the 25th anniversary celebration dinner of the Economic Club of Washington June 5, 2012 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Warren Buffett (L), chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and David Rubenstein (R), president of the Economic Club of Washington, participate in a discussion during the 25th anniversary celebration dinner of the Economic Club of Washington June 5, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway) remarked, “‘It’s vital to be able to communicate well… Just being able to communicate with others on the job adds at least 50% to your value.” Open and effective communications at all levels solves many problems and reduces conflict before it even occurs. Lee Iacocca (Chrysler) declared, “A leader has to communicate. I’m not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I’m talking about facing reality and telling the truth…

Communication has to start with telling the truth, even when it’s painful.” Iacocca notes the importance of intellectual honesty as part of the communication process. “Iacocca says he’s not talking about verbosity or sound bites. He means facing reality and telling the truth, even when it’s painful. If you apply spin, people will know—they’re not stupid—and they’ll stop listening.”

“Peter Drucker [felt] the most valuable asset in a firm is the collective knowledge of its employees. But to realize that value, the people in an organization have to be able to share that knowledge. That means ‘them that’s got it’ have to be able to give it to ‘them that don’t.’ And that transaction requires two-way communication between inspired transmitters and welcome receivers.” The great leaders understood this. In fact, most spent a great deal of their time on the “factory floor” meeting with managers, supervisors and employees to see firsthand what is happening and to understand the problems and issues facing their companies.

At Hewlett-Packard it was discovered that “‘Management by Walking Around’ improves communication, improves quality, improves teamwork, and improves profits. Hewlett and Packard’s visible presence and easy availability (they insisted on a company-wide open-door policy, believing that interruptions were a small price to pay for the advantages of open and frank communication with the talented people they hired) earned them deep credibility with their co-workers. A drill press operator on the outskirts of the factory knew that the CEO and President understood what he did and appreciated his contribution.”

As was previously pointed out, John Patterson (National Cash Register) actually moved his office into the middle of his factory floor. While other leaders, such as Henry Heinz (H.J. Heinz), Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire), William Proctor (Proctor & Gamble), and George Westinghouse (Westinghouse) did not go to that extreme, they still remained highly visible, and openly and frequently communicated with their employees. In recognition of his frequent presence on the factory floor, Harvey Firestone’s casket was walked through his factory one last time, at the time of his death.

The great leaders spent the majority of their time traveling and communicating with employees and key constituencies. This allowed them to become personally acquainted and to influence employees on all levels. It also provided them with the opportunity to elicit feedback to make more accurate and fact-based decisions.

Fredrick Crawford (TRW) spent “much of his time speaking to employees and projecting the force of his ideas and his personality. One observer called him ‘a natural leader of tremendous vitality, self-assurance and singleness of purpose.’ But there was more to the Thompson program than Crawford. At all levels of the organization, managers tried to convince workers that the company had their best interests at heart…

Thompson managers referred employees as ‘members of the Thompson family’ and tried to minimize status distinctions between managers and workers… the firm’s policies were guided by an effort ‘to eliminate class lines and have our relationships on a first name basis.’”

While this may appear commonplace, some influential leaders like Cary Fiorina (Hewlett-Packard), Richard Fuld (Lehman Brothers) and Roger Smith (General Motors) avoided meeting with their employees. Not only that, they strictly limited their accessibility to them. These leaders, among others who exhibited this characteristic, experienced substantial problems on multiple levels.


The Need to Test Opinions Against the Facts

The Capacity to Face Reality

Don’t Push Out Figures When Facts Are Going in the Opposite Direction


  1. Stein Ben, Ben Stein: More from My Dinner with Warren (Fortune Magazine, January 7, 2010)
  2. Iacocca Lee, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? (Scribner, 2007)
  3. Iacocca on the Need for Leadership Now (Business Management Daily, March 31, 2010)
  4. Willax Paul A., To Communicate Better, Improve Your Listening Skills (New Hampshire Business Review, September 28, 2007)
  5. Orfalea Paul, Helfert Lance, Lowe Atticus and Zatkowsky Dean, Inspirational Figures David Packard (West Coast Asset Management)
  6. Jacoby Sanford M., Reckoning With Company Unions: The Case of Thompson Products, 1934-1964 (Industrial and Labor Relations Review, October 1, 1989)

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Eight Ways to Improve Communication

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Every leader has room for improvement in the way they communicate with both their superiors and employees. The fast-paced workplace environment and immediate but impersonal nature of electronic communication has diminished many leaders’ ability to effectively convey their message, gain valuable feedback and lead their organization.

Surveys often show employees are concerned with the quality of communications in the workplace. Many feel companies give lip service and are not sincere in the messages they communicate. Others feel the only way information is imparted is through memos on bulletin boards. Still others feel instructions or policies are vague and difficult to interpret and follow.

This is important to recognize because ineffective communication begets poor cooperation and internal coordination, decreased productivity, and increased tension, absenteeism and turnover. Voids in communication are then filled with extremely damaging gossip and rumors. These repercussions seriously undermine a leader’s efforts to facilitate change within their organization, a crucial ability in today’s business climate.

The following is a list of proven concepts and techniques leaders can use to improve communications with both superiors and employees.

Communication: A Two-Way Process⎯Not a Monologue

Leaders should understand that communication does not end when they are finished delivering their message. Whether with superiors or employees, it is a two-way process that involves both giving information and receiving feedback. It is an ongoing exchange as questions are answered, additional information is given, and further feedback and input solicited.

Emphasize Personal Communications

The convenience of voice and email has made impersonal communications a reality for many leaders. Rather than rely on these electronic media as well as bulletin boards, memos and other like methods of communication, leaders should rely on personal exchanges and stress face-to-face meetings where possible. This helps eliminate miscommunication as leaders can readily interpret nonverbal facial expressions and body language.

Be Specific

Vague statements or instructions cause most miscommunication by failing to clearly and concisely direct or inform employees/superiors. Since vagueness is open to a variety of interpretations, confusion quickly sets in.

Every time a leader conveys a message or gives an instruction, they must ask if what they are communicating is clear, concise and specific. If not, they must restructure the communication so that it is.

Information Is… A Service

“Information is power” is a widely used phrase. The problem is, instead of sharing information, many managers and leaders hoard it as a method of wielding power over others.

Leaders should view the delivery and availability of information as a service to both their superiors and employees that enables them to be more productive and make better-informed decisions. It is in this service sense that information should be considered powerful.

Show Respect

Effective and open communication demands that all parties respect one another. This means that leaders, superiors and employees demonstrate respect for what each other has to say. They ask questions to show interest and further clarify key points. When this is done, all will feel an important part of a team and tend to be both more dedicated and productive.

An Open-Door Policy

Leaders don’t give lip service to an open-door policy, they practice it. They take the time to be among and interact with their employees. They keep their finger on the pulse of the organization by openly discussing needs and problems and allowing employees to disagree and contribute new ideas and insights.

This practice demonstrates a sincere concern for employees—and builds an endearing sense of loyalty. The impact it can have on a leader’s organization cannot be overemphasized. Actively and continually showing care and concern dramatically increases productivity and personal dedication.

One-on-One Meetings

Where possible leaders should have one-on-one meetings with their employees to develop insight and ideas regarding how to increase productivity within the organizational unit. Discussions should focus on ways leaders and employees can help one another be more productive.

Build Credibility

Without personal credibility, no matter how hard a leader tries he or she will fail to communicate. Unless leaders create a climate of credibility, they will not be trusted or believed by their employees. This destroys any ability or image of leadership. True leaders deliver on their promises and do what they say they will do.

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011) $ 16.95

If you would like to learn more about effective communication methods and techniques, refer to Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series. This training skill-pack features eight key interrelated concepts, each with their own discussion points and training activity. It is ideal as an informal training tool for coaching or personal development. It can also be used as a handbook and guide for group training discussions. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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