Leadership and Communication: The Details Matter

One of the challenges of leadership and, in fact, communication in general, is understanding the level of detail required relative to each situation.

Lead In, Lead On and CoachStation: Communication

Depending on the need, it can be necessary to discuss in-depth the content for a piece of work; what role someone else is to play in the task; seek input into potential solutions and other relevant details. Knowing when this detail is going to add value and not detract from the message or subsequent actions can be the difference between a successful outcome or not. One of the risks is that you as the leader, either do not seek enough input from others and/or confuse the situation as a result of too much information.

I was recently involved in a project that had many layers to it. There were various roles, as you would expect, however the Project Manager (PM) and Project Sponsor were unable to come to grips with their roles to achieve a successful outcome. The PM worked at an ‘arms-length’ with both critical project team members and contributors and the Sponsor was also quite removed as a result. The decision-making process was slow at best and often times non-existent. This flowed into other areas of the project including the testing team and vendor support. Ultimately the project missed several important deadlines over many months and was delayed.

On occasion, it is important to note when it comes to communication and an appropriate level of detail and engagement, less is more!

Without oversimplifying what was a complex project, much of this could have been resolved through clearer communication channels, better-defined roles and improved structure. All of this would have been improved through greater clarity regarding the detail at the beginning of and at various stages of the project. Being able to answer key questions and revisiting them throughout the project can assist in reducing the risk and meet the milestones along the way.

  • What role does each person play?
  • How are the stakeholders to be involved and kept up to date?
  • Has each expert been engaged at the right level and time?
  • Have the end-users and SME’s been involved?
  • How much jurisdiction does the PM have?
  • Who are the key vendor contacts?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for keeping the project on track?
  • What is the role of the Steering Committee and Working Group?

At face value the answer to these questions may seem relatively simple. In reality, the issues that occurred in this project are quite common throughout most organisations in my experience. Leading through a major project, with the right format and level of detail understood by all involved, is difficult. In fact, it can be quite daunting!

Much of this confusion, fear and doubt can be overcome by seeking clarity and involving the project team at the right level. Overlapping and ill-defined roles; political maneuvering; ineffective leadership; poor communication; poor role selection; limited capability of key personnel in key roles; and a loose project plan are all contributors to a reduced outcome. Clarity in tasks, a communication plan/strategy and ultimately a reduction of these issues overall provides a much stronger baseline to work from and minimises the risk of project over-runs and missed deadlines. Understanding the necessary details and seeking clarity early in the project is key. Maintaining an appropriate level of clarity and direction throughout the project timeline also matters.

In leadership generally, the same inputs and questions listed above can be applied to many situations and team cultures. Too much or too little detail and/or a resultant lack of clarity and understanding for each role, position and person within your team is unlikely to add value to meeting goals and objectives. The risk of employee dissatisfaction, turnover and a lack of engagement is also often the result. Enabling your team to provide input into their roles and that of their broader team is critical. As the leader, ensure that clarity exists to the most appropriate degree possible. This does not remove all risk, however is a key piece of the leadership puzzle and as in the example detailed, the alternative can be a very messy and expensive option otherwise.


Filed under Leadership, Strategy

2 responses to “Leadership and Communication: The Details Matter

  1. Because I am detail-oriented, and because those who know and work with me have come to realize this about me, people too often find my ‘details’ to be too much information. As you can imagine, I don’t see the information I provide as too much. I believe that I bring to a team’s attention all that they will need to consider to produce the desired results.

    Over time, I have adopted an analogy to illustrate what my information represents. Here it is:

    Think of the details I share about a project or task as a ‘buffet’ of information. You can go up and get whatever you think is important to you and your piece of the project. You can choose as much or as little as you think will sustain your efforts. And, you can come back for other information you didn’t think that your hunger for information needed to satisfy the desired results. My ‘buffet’ gives you everything you’ll need. It’s up to you to decide what you will want and need.

    So, is it too much information? What if I only put the basic elements of the project’s ‘meal.’ Answer: people would be in need of more, and will ask for more to be provided.

    But, contrary to this, I admit, is the necessity for people to develop some of these bits of information on their own; to be innovative and creative enough to come up with many of these answers. Then, in this instance, it is important for the leader not to provide all the puzzle pieces, but rather draw the picture and share the vision of what the results are supposed to look like.

    Both of these scenarios will work. In fact, the employment of one over the other could be situational, depending on the people, their talents (and knowledge), the resources to be used, and the level of challenges they will face, among other variables.

    Yes, details matter. But, one has to offer those details in such a way that the people find the value of those details. Ultimately, it’s not the ingredients, because the proof is in the pudding (the results, the final product, the prize).


  2. Hi Steve,

    All the questions above can be answered in a stakeholder matrix (or map – see: http://www.pmhut.com/stakeholder-map ) – even after reading your last paragraph, I’m not sure I understand the relevancy to leadership.

    In any case, I think many project managers will appreciate your post on PM Hut, and that’s why I would like to republish it there. Please email me or contact me through the contact us form on the PM Hut site in case you’re OK with this.


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