One of the key tasks of a leader is to make sure that everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction. Getting the message out so that everyone on the team hears it at the same time in the same way is critical to achieving that unity of purpose. I heard a great story about how to do that while working this week with a leadership team from the Department of Defense.
One of the team members is retired U.S. Army Colonel Harry Scott. We got to know each other a bit over lunch and he told me how, when he was the brigade commander at Fort Lewis, he and his leadership team tested how well they were getting their message out to the 6,000 soldiers on base.
Each week, Colonel Scott released his Phrase of the Week to the entire garrison. For instance, one of his favorite phrases of the week was, “Attitude reflects leadership,” from the movie Remember the Titans. Whenever Scott and members of his leadership team were mixing with the troops, they would ask the soldiers in the motor pool or the mess hall or wherever they were if they knew if the Phrase of the Week. If the soldiers answered correctly, there were high fives and atta-boys all around. If they didn’t know the phrase, then the Colonel or any officer who asked the question would drop and do twenty push ups. The way Colonel Scott saw it, if the soldier didn’t know the phrase, that was a communication failure on the part of the leadership team, not the soldier.
As Scott told me, “You fight as you train and you train as you fight.” The effectiveness of the communication process during battle would reflect the effectiveness of the communication process at the Fort. Colonel Scott used the Phrase of the Week as a simple way to regularly test the communications effectiveness of his command structure.
I asked him for three of this most important lessons learned about getting your message out and here’s what he told me:
Use Multiple Channels: Scott’s team got their message out through many different channels including e-mail, face to face meetings and bulletin boards throughout the garrison. They flooded the zone with their message so everyone had an equal opportunity to receive it.
Keep It Short: It didn’t take long for Lewis to learn that less is more when it comes to effective messaging. Long, complex messages don’t translate and don’t spread.
Share the Purpose: Without any context, the Phrase of the Week might have come across as a pointless distraction. Colonel Scott and his team made sure that they regularly explained why Fort Lewis had a Phrase of the Week. It wasn’t about pithy pep talks. It was to make sure that when the brigade was in the heat of battle, the leadership was well practiced in getting its message out. You fight as you train and you train as you fight.
What do you do as a leader to ensure that your message is getting out?