Five Levels of Communication to Improve Understanding

Communicating effectively with family and friends is incredibly difficult as we all know. When it comes to a leader trying to communicate with their team, it seems to become exponentially more difficult!

At one point in my career, I was the chief of staff for a very intelligent CEO. He is one of those people who seems to have an idea a minute and thinks out loud. The problem for his directors was that they often did not know if he was giving them direction, asking them for their opinions, or just expressing an idea. One of my roles as chief of staff was to “interpret” messages sent between the directors and the CEO. Many times I would walk into the CEO’s office and say something along the line of “Chris is beginning to implement XYZ that you discussed the other day in your office—is that really what you want to do?” Often the CEO would look at me a bit confused because he did not even remember what he had said; he had no intention for Chris to do anything at all. At other times, I would have to go to a director’s office and tell them that the CEO really did want them to follow through on what he said and that it wasn’t just an idea. As you can imagine, things got a bit confused at times, which often resulted in wasted effort and unnecessary frustration.

Fortunately, we had a relationship with the company Ambassador Enterprises, LLC, which has a brilliant CEO who also seems to have an idea a minute. The difference is that they have developed a powerful tool to clarify their communications, which has greatly improved their effectiveness. That tool is called “The Five Levels of Communication.”

Level 1—An Idea. Throw an idea into the hopper; no action required.

Level 2—A Suggestion. The leader has thought about an idea and would like you to think about it as well.

Level 3—A Recommendation. The leader has thought about the idea a good bit and wants you to consider implementing it unless there is a good reason not to do so. A recommendation may be appealed.

Level 4—A Directive. As it suggests, the leader wants action taken unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. A directive may be appealed.

Level 5—A Mandate. This is the equivalent of the house is on fire and get out. No questions, no appeal—just do it. This is very rarely used.

When we implemented this system, or way of talking, at our organization, the level of misunderstanding was greatly lowered. I use this approach often now and always to a good result.

It is vital that leaders communicate clearly to their teams. Using this framework, this way of talking, will greatly help achieve that needed clarity. The result is more effective teams and a more effective organization.

BG Allen
Executive Coach

“Beware of Perception Gaps”

clarity – a key component of organizational health

ClarityGood morning!

Recently, I had the opportunity to do some teaching on Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage (an excellent book by the way). The book is focused on organizational health and a major theme running through the book is the need for clarity. It seems obvious, but so few organizations/leaders actually achieve clarity.

Leaders owe clear and consistent direction to those they lead – without clarity people flounder and so will the organization. Read some of the following quotes:

“Unfortunately, most of the leaders I’ve worked with who complain about a lack of alignment mistakenly see it primarily as a behavioral or attitudinal problem. In their minds, it’s a function of the fact that employees below them do not want to work together. What those executives don’t realize is that there cannot be alignment deeper in the organization, even when employees want to cooperate, if the leaders at the top aren’t in lockstep with one another around a few very specific things.

No matter how many times executives preach about the “e” word in their speeches, there is no way that their employees can be empowered to fully execute their responsibilities if they don’t receive clear and consistent messages about what is important from their leaders across the organization.” –  Lencioni, Patrick M. (2012-08-21). The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (pp. 74-75). Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.

“What would happen if we could figure out the one thing you could do that would make the highest contribution?” I asked him. He responded sincerely: ‘That is the question.’ ” – Mckeown, Greg (2014-04-15). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Kindle Locations 171-172). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

We owe it to others to provide them clarity about where we are going and how we plan to get there – confusion and ambiguity do not produce organizational health and effectiveness.

So – today -, how are you going to provide your team even greater clarity about where you are headed?

Have a great week!


How Do I Fit Here?

Good Monday morning to you! This weekend a good friend of mine posted on Facebook his opinion that naps ought to be a required part of the first week of daylight savings time. After getting up this morning with my body clock at odds with my alarm clock I think he may be on to something.

How important is it for you to know how you fit within your organization? Does it help you to have clarity regarding how your role The Four Obsessionsadvances the mission of your organization? Does it help you to know just how it is that you add value to your organization?

For most of us, it does matter. We don’t want to just be a cog in a large machine. Most of us want to do things that matter and we want to know just how it is that we advance the mission of our organization. And so do the people we lead.

Creating clarity is a key role of a leader. A particularly important area where we need to create clarity is just how the people we lead contribute to the overall mission of our organizations. They need to know that what they do is valuable and they need to know how and why it is valuable. You need to be able to “connect the dots” for them from what they do to the overall mission. This is a hugely important aspect of a leader’s role that is often overlooked. Sometimes we even forget just how important the people are to the mission of the organization. (NOTE: Check out Patrick Lencioni’s book The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive for a good read on creating organizational clarity.)

So take time today and think about the people you have the privilege of leading and how vital they are to your organization (yes – even the ones that irritate you!) and then take the time to begin telling them just how they fit and how important they are to the organization.

Hope you have a great week and maybe you will have the opportunity to catch a couple of naps!

Maintain Clear Expectations to Grow Trust – Randy Carman

A key part of growing trust is managing expectations. When leaders fail to do this before they have had time to establish a positive track record with their team, it is especially damaging. Conversely, setting clear expectations at the start and meeting those expectations builds trust quickly. – Randy Carman

Great point! Clarity – clear communication is a key responsibility of a leader. Never assume you have communicated well. Always follow up to ensure clarity – it is your responsibility!

Randy is my dyad partner in leading the Learning & Growth Strategies division of Ambassador Enterprises. Click here to read his blog post on the importance of clear communications and managing expectations.


Are You Being Clear?

Good morning! Another beautiful day and it has been a good week at Life Action as all of our staff from across the country, Canada and the Dominican Republic are together this week. 

Are you being clear to those you lead? is there alignment in your organization? Do people really know where you are headed?

Patrick Lencioni makes it clear in his book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, just how important clarity is in our organizations. He suggests that we be able to answer clearly and succinctly the following six questions:

1.Why do we exist?
2.How do we behave?
3.What do we do?
4.How will we succeed?
5.What is most important, Right now?
6.Who must do what?

Then after answering the questions, we need to develop a “playbook” with the answers that the leadership team keeps with them all the time. The playbook should be short and to the point. Just a few pages.

Question for you – can you answer those six questions for your organization?
Grace & peace to you today!

Six Questions You Should Be Able to Answer

Does your team have the clarity they need to accomplish their mission?  Does your organization have the clarity it needs to move towards mission accomplishment?  Too often the answer is no.

In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni gives six critical questions that every organizations should be able to answer.  If you can answer these questions then you will be moving towards creating clarity that will bless your staff and help you move the organization towards mission accomplishment.  By the way, jargon, slogans, meaningless words or fancy language are not allowed!  Keep it simple and real.

The questions:

1. Why do we exist? Successful and enduring organizations understand the fundamental reason they were founded and stay true  to that reason.

2. How do we behave? This should be embodied in your core values and be the ultimate guide for staff behavior at all levels.

3. What do we do? This is the simplest of the six – what is it that you do?  Define it clearly.

4. How will we succeed? When you answer this question, you are essentially setting your strategy.

5. What is most important, right now? Determine what is THE priority right now, not priorities.  Too many organizations have 7, 8 or more “top” priorities.  You need to determine what single priority is most important, right now.

6. Who must do what? Do you leaders / staff really know who is responsible for what?  Or is there some confusion?  Maybe multiple people thinking they are responsible for the same thing?You need to clarify roles and responsibilities.

If you can answer these six questions with your leadership team, then you are well on your way to achieving clarity within your organization in a manner that will propel you towards mission accomplishment.

Blessings on your Thursday!

Buzz Word Bingo

A few days ago, I posted about the “Blah Blahometer” where we were talking about speaking with clarity.  In ministry, we have our own “lingo” replete with buzz words that have little or no meaning, but still impress.

Following is a video from IBM on “Buzz Word Bingo“.  It is short – watch and see if you see yourself or your organization in the video.

 Blessings on your day!


What Did You Say?

Good morning!  Still no snow up here in SW Michigan and in fact we have even had a few sunny days which is a great blessing.

Blah-Blah-Blah!  How many presentations have you heard, meetings you have attended, or memos (emails) you have read where at the end you go “What?”.  In this highly verbal world we live in it seems we believe the more words we use and the “fancier” the words the better.  However, we often leave our listeners (readers) saying “What?”

We seem to forget that the goal was communication which demands clarity – instead we often cause confusion.  So what do we do?

Drive towards clarity!  Learn to speak, write, draw, and so on in ways that engage your audience, not what makes you feel good or smart.

Dan Roam has several books out that are a great help – his latest one is Blah Blah Blah in which he introduces his Blah Blahometer – a great way to evaluate the clarity of your message.  I would recommend checking out his site as well as his book.

Remember – the goal is to communicate with great clarity and it is not to try to impress them with your vocabulary or extensive knowledge of corporate-speak / ministry-speak.

Hope you have a great weekend!