How Great Leaders Avoid Miscommunication


Recently, I’ve been working on a CTO search for a well known global software company.

The previous CTO was retiring – after 20 years loyal service – so understandably the stakes were high. Not only did the board want a highly qualified and successful candidate, they also wanted someone who they felt sure would be able to stay with the company for many years to come.

Thankfully, after a comprehensive search and after interviewing a number of candidates, they found someone. Someone they thought was special. Someone who could fill the boots of the previous CTO and possibly even add an extra dimension to the management team.

Things seemed to be going swimmingly. Both candidate and client felt excited at the prospect of working together. Conversation was transparent and positive. Eventually we managed to negotiate numbers that worked for both sides and the client made an offer that the CTO candidate was delighted to accept.

They even met for dinner to celebrate the beginning of a new and exciting relationship.

The only tricky part was the pre-hire on-boarding process.

It was complicated. You see, our newly hired CTO happened to be on a complicated expatriate package. Although these points had been agreed on offer, there was all sorts of legal wording around notice period, benefits, family support, stock schemes and even visa sponsorship.

There were endless emails exchanged. Lawyers and accountants got involved. Terms got amended, re-ammended and still weren’t right. At some points, there were so many different issues in play that it became even impossible to determine what was going on.

The entire interview process had been completed in 4 weeks. The contractual process lasted over 5 weeks – without still reaching a finalised agreement.

Eventually, our CTO candidate got frustrated. His current employer offered him another role internally that seemed a fantastic opportunity. Especially since our client hadn’t managed to turn around a satisfactory contract in over 5 weeks. He started to have second thoughts and even phoned our client to let them know he was likely to now stick with his current employer.

In a last ditch attempt, our client sent their chairman to meet with him. An experienced gentleman who saw the problem instantly. Rather than send further emails, he organised a meeting with the candidate – but also insisted the head HR, General Counsel and CFO was present.

After a morning of 4-way face-to-face meetings, all issues got fully discussed and agreed upon. All departments agreed on a plan. Within 24 hours a satisfactory contract was produced. And our candidate regained his love for the company and gladly accepted the new job.

On the surface, nothing much had changed. Solving the contractual issue had still involved the same people, the same issues and the same urgency.

The only thing that had made the critical difference was the approach.

By using a more open and collaborative approach the chairman had minimised the chance of miscommunication.

It got me thinking. And when I analysed all the best clients I had worked with over the past fifteen years, it became apparent that this critical quality was something most great leaders had.

Here are some ways how great leaders avoid miscommunication.

They pick up the phone (or even better meet in person)

Technology is great.

It’s what allows you and I to have this interaction today. (Hi!).

The impact of technology is also growing exponentially every single day. Nowadays, most of us communicate mainly through various media such as email, SMS or the various social media platforms.

It’s quicker, easier and in many situations even more productive.

However the problem with things like email is that it’s not so great at conveying emotion. It’s also not very collaborative (you send an email back-and-forth rather than have a simultaneous conversation trying to come up with a mutually beneficial answer).

And since high stake conversations often require a lot of emotion and collaboration, its easy to see why even carefully crafted and detailed emails can still often cause extra confusion and frustration.

Great leaders understand that conversation is far more powerful than email. Face-to-face conversation even more so. Rather than overlying on technology to cram in as much as possible, they know when to pick up the phone for more important interactions.

It’s one of the best ways to minimise miscommunication.

Great leaders know when to pick up the phone.

They hear others out first

Us humans love to talk.

Maybe because we’re so smart and have so much to share.

All of us have vast mental libraries of knowledge, experience and beliefs that we’re happy to share with whoever is prepared to listen. It’s our way of trying to help others and reach solutions quickly.

The problem is, in our eagerness to help often we can jump in without analysing the problem fully. We end up making assumptions or opinions and ignoring vital pieces of information that can central to fixing a problem or achieving success.

Great leaders understand that miscommunication commonly occurs when one or more parties fails to understand the other side fully. They realise that effective remedies can only be found through even more effective diagnosis. Rather than start with great advice, they start with great questions. Questions that allow others to be understood, that allow all important facts to be gathered, and most importantly that allow others to feel listened to and valued.

Only then do they attempt to offer advice and solutions that may be helpful.

Great leaders ask great questions.

They don’t pass important messages through others

We’ve all played the game Chinese whispers.

And as simple and obvious as it may seem, the simple lesson it highlights is something most of us could apply much better:

As messages continually get passed from person to person, the risk of mistakes, errors and inaccuracy is sure to grow.

It’s why top performing CEO’s literally keep their doors open at all times. If any employee, customer or partner wants to speak to them directly they can. They realise that by doing so, not only does it create a culture of openness but it also allows them to understand what is really going on. Otherwise, they understand that by going through layers of management, the true picture (either intentionally or unintentionally) can become distorted.

Great leaders understand that when it comes to important matters, going through proxy is not an option. You either speak directly or not at all. It’s the only way to make sure that your full intentions and meaning are delivered the way you want.

Great leaders go direct.


It the fast paced and noisy world we live in today, miscommunication has never been easier.

Simply forgetting to like that new profile pic or accidentally adding an “x” instead of a :) can cause fury and resentment.

That’s why avoiding miscommunication can be such a powerful tool in advancing against the competition or achieving the results you want.

Great leaders understand that in order to do so, it’s essential to sometimes go against our natural instincts and in some cases even do things that may require hard work and extra time.

However the results are often well worth it.

How do you avoid miscommunication?

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