Good leaders communicate face to face

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Effective communication is critical to leadership, unit cohesion and mission accomplishment. Having been a commander for only two months, I wouldn't say that I have a lot of experience in command, but I do have experience in leading large groups of people. 

In jobs like mine, you get a lot of practice learning how to effectively lead and communicate with people. The last 14 years of my career has been as a maintenance officer. Over these years I have found many recurring themes but the one that seems to jump out the most to me is effective communication.

In today's technological age there are plenty of means in which we can communicate with each other, but rarely do I see it done well. What I am saying is that often meanings, intonations, and other bits of information that are key to communicating are often lost with the technology that is being used. A lot of work is done via e-mail and the volume of information available to us is extraordinary but I see a lot of time being spent sending e-mail back and forth just to clarify a point. I often wonder if it would have been faster just to pick up the telephone and call or just walk over to someone's office and sit down and talk with them. 

I definitely think e-mail has a place in today's world and can definitely increase our capabilities. It is a great place to pass on factual information, track suspenses and schedule meetings and in that sense it can be a real time saver. However I don't think it is such a great thing to use to resolve issues or problems.

Problems tend not to be expressed very well in e-mail, or, if they are expressed clearly, it makes the e-mail so long (with history and descriptors) that the reader loses interest before fully understanding what is being said. What happens is that people only read what they want to read and that is where the misunderstanding starts. Misunderstanding then leads to frustration. Frustration then leads to angry e-mails. Angry e-mails then result in a total breakdown of getting the problem or issue solved. Almost every time I have seen this the issue gets resolved via a face to face meeting. Imagine how much time would have been saved if the problem solving had started out that way.

Look at it this way, why does every leadership course talk about getting out from behind your desk? Leadership or management by walking around is communication. It is effective face to face communication. You learn about issues your unit is facing and it gives you the ability to clearly communicate your commander's intent, vision and goals to resolve issues and get the mission accomplished.

In a nutshell I am saying don't hide behind e-mail to resolve problems. Get out from behind your desk, walk around and talk to people. Technology doesn't make us better at communicating it only enhances our ability to communicate. If we communicate well, then our units will operate more efficiently and we can more effectively accomplish our mission.