Talk is the Technology of Leadership

Managers cherish soft information. Gossip, hearsay, and speculation form a good part of the manager’s information diet. The reason appears to be its timeliness: today’s gossip can be tomorrow’s fact.

The manager who is not accessible for a quick message or an email advising that the firm’s biggest customer was seen golfing with its main competitor may read about it as a dramatic drop in sales in next year’s income statement. But by then it can be too late.

Formal information is firm, definitive —at the limit, it comprises hard numbers and clear reports. But informal information can be much richer, even if less reliable. On the telephone, there is tone of voice and the chance to interact. In meetings, there is also facial expressions, gestures, and other body language. Never underestimate the power of these. E-mail does not offer these advantages, but it is a lot faster than conventional mail, and so is somewhat more interactive.

Unlike other workers, the manager does not leave the telephone, the meeting, or the e-mail to get back to work. These contacts are the work. The ordinary work of the unit or organization —producing a product, selling it, even conducting a study or writing a report —is not usually undertaken by its manager. The manager’s productive output has to be gauged largely in terms of the information he or she transmits orally or by e-mail.

Summing-up: The core technologies of leading are speaking and listening. If you’re leading, or managing, it pays to think about these technologies a little more deeply.

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