Saturday, July 14, 2012


There was a message that I remember from when I was a kid, that I believe was some advice from Ted Williams about learning how to hit a baseball.  Since I grew up in Boston area, and Ted Williams was considered more than the greatest hitter in baseball history, he was considered something just short of 12 Apostles, it was something we all noted.  The advice was this: “Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.  And when you think you are done, practice some more.”

From what I have seen, this is pretty good advice for anyone who wants to become proficient in, and then excel at, anything.  Want to be a good public speaker?  Do it – a lot.  Throw a football – same.  Solve partial differential equations?  Ditto.  Grow petunias, make horseshoes, cut diamonds, diagnose heart disease, lead an army, perform brain surgery, balance the books, dig coal?  Ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto, ditto.

Of course there are some warnings: you need to learn how to properly do each of these things.  But the real issue today is that to excel you need to spend time doing ‘it,’ whatever it is.  Which leads around to one of the more revealing statements from a public leader in the past several weeks.

President Obama made the statement the other day that he had failed to realize that he needed to spend more time talking to the American people.  Disregarding any argument as to whether he has or has not spent a great deal of time giving speeches to the country, the simple fact of this statement is revealing in that it points out that the President obviously failed to appreciate that as a leader the key component of actually leading is communicating.  To be a great leader one needs a vision and intellect and moral courage and decision-making skills and charisma, but to connect those skills to your followers requires communication.  Great leaders may at times be weak in any of these areas.  But failing to communicate is the gravest weakness and the one that will most quickly lead to failure.  That President Obama said this (assuming he wasn’t saying it as part of a well-spun spiel to draw in a fawning press) is to suggest how in-experienced he was when he arrived in the White House (and how inexperienced he remains.)

The simple truth is that leadership is difficult; building followers, people who truly believe in your vision and adopt it as their own is difficult; and it requires real effort – every day.  And that means you – the leader – must communicate the vision to the followers and prospective followers regularly and frequently.  If you are trying to create new followers from those who formerly opposed you (as with most leaders in difficult positions), the task is even more difficult.  And that means you need to communicate with them – a lot.  In fact, the odds are that you aren’t communicating enough.  As I have said before, I have never met or been exposed to any leader, at any level, who communicated too much.  (I have been exposed to a few figures who talked too much – and they were very poor leaders – but talking is not the same as communicating).  I have only met one or two figures who communicated enough, and even then it was only for brief periods of time.  Even when I tried to communicate enough I often found it very difficult to do so, and very easy to fall short.

Excellence in leadership requires a great deal of work.  Every facet of leadership requires constant attention.  But in the end, it is in communicating effectively that you will succeed, and in failing to do so that you will fail.  And so, we will finish with a slight twist on Ted Williams:

Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate.  And when you think you are done, communicate some more.