How Executives Overcome Hidden Communication Gaps


How Executives Overcome Their Hidden Communication Gaps

Why do CEO’s make egregious mistakes in the area of internal communication? Often, they resist a key requirement of the job: to develop “soft skills” outside their comfort zones.

For years, they long to be promoted to the company’s pinnacle, while failing to see the downside. It’s hard for them to understand how the top job is quite different from any other. The fact is, the CEO or MD position is the only one in which one’s boss isn’t visible on a daily basis. It gives new occupants a newfound freedom to act (or not), producing some bad outcomes, including the following.

1. A CEO walks through the office each morning, much in the same way he did before his promotion. After a few weeks, his trusted secretary pulls him aside to advise him: “Whenever you come in with your screwface, everyone has a bad day.” He’s shocked.

2. An MD decides not to say anything in a project meeting, hoping to deepen the commitment of team members. Instead, they come to believe the project should be killed, interpreting her silence to indicate a complete lack of support.

3. A top leader decides to hold short meetings with employees every month. He urges them to speak openly and frankly which, after a slow start, they begin to do. One morning, he retorts: “Is that all you do each day, come in this company and complain?” After his comment reverberates among the cubicles, the meetings die out.

What brings about these disasters? How do top leaders come to be separated from a reality that’s so obvious to others? Here are some reasons and recommendations.

1. They Lose Their Coach
When executives finally free themselves of direct supervision, they must fill the gap with other feedback mechanisms that are overt, consistent and frequent. Typically, they under-estimate the role former supervisors played in their development, or (even worse) assume they have no need for further feedback. In their minds, they have arrived. As a result, they act in the dark, oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

Recommendation: Develop a range of mechanisms such as regular employee surveys and focus groups to make it safe for staff members (and the occasional outsider) to give unfettered feedback.

2. They Lose Their Team
It’s easy for a newly minted top executive to destroy her working team: just believe that others only need to hear an explanation once. She unwittingly becomes a serial under-communicator.

Over time, her colleagues will fill the breach with their own interpretation of events. The less she communicates, the more their imaginations fill with dark thoughts. This creates an invisible wall between the top executive and her direct reports which makes them cautious, unwilling to commit because they never know what she believes.

Recommendation: Over-communicate to the point of discomfort, especially to direct reports. Continue until they can relay key messages as their own.

3. They Lose Their Knowledge
Each move up the corporate ladder creates a bit more distance between a manager and the employees who actually do the work. CEO’s or MD’s, by definition, have it the worst.

Most are impatient for results leading them to be more extroverted, demanding and assertive. Amidst the thrill of seeing others respond with haste, they sometimes don’t realize the trust being lost due to their poor listening.

This problem builds as the top executive becomes further separated from the information needed to do a good job. Now, he’s operating in a vacuum as collaboration between levels and across functional lines grinds to a halt. As a result, the best employees with the most up-dates-skills and access to the latest technologies stop sharing. He doesn’t understand that engaged employees take information to places it’s most needed and when he sets a poor tone, they go on strike.

Recommendation: Insist on quality conversations and meetings that build trust, while exposing employees to decision-makers.

The skills needed by a CEO to ask for feedback, get others involved and build information via trusted relationships make many uncomfortable. They are “soft” skills – the kind they have ignored over the years. After a while, it dawns on someĀ  that their talents in this area are undeveloped but they don’t know how to make the transition.

The only way to ultimately escape the trap is to engage in some ruthless self-examination. The best
CEO’s I have worked with insist on carving out new personal and professional shortcomings. They are hell-bent on achieving their goals and are unwilling to be in the way.

It’s the opposite of what most do: convince themselves that all is well. Always. In these cases, it’s only a matter of time before they falter in the face of communication gaps they don’t even know they have.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a complimentary document with links to articles from 2010-2015, send email to

How to Use Notifications to Achieve High Productivity


2016-07-03_14-40-12In today’s world, as an ambitious hard-working person, you are cursed. With the help of mobile, internet and cloud technology, you give yourself more to do than professionals in prior generations ever imagined. One of the problems you face is how to interrupt yourself when you get lost in a critical task.

If you have ever watched the TV show The West Wing, you may have noticed that the President employed the perfect administrative assistant. She never forgot anything, possessing a skillful way of interrupting her boss: the most powerful person in the world. Her message was simple: “Stop doing this, start doing that.”

These interventions kept the President on track with his plans for the day. Without them, he’d be operating blind. Eventually he would fall into chaos, a fact backed up by recent McKinsey research showing that admins make a measurable difference to an executive’s performance.

Unfortunately, most professionals, including those in Jamaica, no longer have administrative help. Even some that do, complain that their admin can’t be trusted to act like the character from the West Wing because his/her time management skills are not up to par. The fact is, administrative support is increasingly seen as a nice-to-have perk that can be cut, rather than a requirement to achieve high productivity.

In today’s world, you must be prepared to go it alone.

On the flip side, books like Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Deep Work by Cal Newport show that your best work takes place when you are able to devote total attention to a challenging task in a single sitting. In the cases where you are able to tackle the problem without being overwhelmed, you are pushed to use your best skills.

Unfortunately, these moments are becoming increasingly rare.

In today’s workplace interruptions are not only tolerated, they are encouraged: in some companies, it’s seen as rude to try to isolate yourself from others, no matter how critical the task. In others, answering every bleep, vibration and pop-up from your mobile device or laptop is seen as being “attentive”. The absolute worst corporate cultures actually reward employees who answer their email the quickest.

The problem is that once you enter the states of “Flow” and “Deep Work” you are likely to lose track of time. Furthermore, research shows that it’s futile to try to watch the clock while you’re being this productive. You end up multi-tasking by executing the task and watching the

clock at the same time. A better solution is to automate your interruptions.

This is the point where your device can actually be helpful. Like most people, you probably have an ad-hoc set of notifications set up on your smartphone, tablet and laptop. They sound off at random times, responding to a number of apps and system settings. You don’t understand how, or don’t have the bandwidth to fix them all. To survive, you adopt one of two extremes.

Perhaps you respond to every single signal your smartphone makes. According to researchers, this tactic is a fine way to simulate the symptoms of ADHD, ruining your productivity.

Most of us just ignore them all, hoping we don’t miss something important. Here’s a better alternative.

Step 1 – Turn Off All Notifications
Begin by leaving on the ringing of your phone and turning off everything else. Take a few days to re-accustom yourself to the relative silence. You are re-training your nervous system to tune back into your smartphone.

Step 2 – Make a List of Necessary Notifications
As your week progresses, notice which notifications you cannot do without. Separate permanent needs from one-time accidents. For example, just because you picked up an urgent email in 2014 based on a ping from your phone, doesn’t mean that you should keep this notification turned on. You may be making an error psychologists call a “Hasty Generalisation.” Set aside this list.

Step 3 – Catalog Situations Where Interruptions Are Necessary
Make a table of different locations and the actions you frequently take. Here is an example:

notified self table gleaner

Step 4 – Turn On Notifications You Absolutely Need, One at a Time
Today, most devices offer ways to customize notifications so they only appear at certain times with a distinctive blend of sounds, vibrations and pop-ups. Wait a few days between turning each one on so that you can get accustomed to this new way of paying attention.

The end result will be one you may appreciate. For the first in a long time, you will have a device whose notifications are tuned to your needs. You won’t have an actual administrative assistant, but your smartphone will now be playing an essential role that helps you to be your most productive.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. To receive a complimentary document with links to his articles from 2010-2015, send email to