How many times have we heard these words in a workplace?
“We’re in the dark here”
“Nobody knows what’s going on”
“This is an information vacuum!”
Too many times, right?
These are classic signs of a (very) big leadership fail I call “Leadership by Osmosis“.
That is, the expectation that a leader’s knowledge can simply be transferred to others without the benefit of much verbal and written communication – kind of like Mr. Spock doing a bunch of Vulcan mind melds.
Granted, it’s tempting to believe this expectation because it makes a leader’s life pretty easy – just say something once or twice to a couple of people, add a few magic words, and presto, a week or two later EVERYONE will know. Just like that. And then move on to something else.
But here’s the big problem – Osmosis may work in a laboratory, or on the planet Vulcan, but it doesn’t work in the workplace.
It’s really a huge assumption that quickly becomes an even bigger risk to a leader’s success, because it can even more quickly become a morale and culture killer.
The ever so interesting question is, if Leadership by Osmosis never works, why is this technique still around? Why do we still hear those classic lines from our friends and teammates?
In a nutshell, the reason is this – developing and implementing a real communications strategy that assures full knowledge and information absorption throughout an organization takes a lot of hard work, especially on the part of the leader on top of the organization.
The leader has to get out from behind the desk, and communicate. And not just in the boardrooms and hallways of the corporate office.
Messages need to be sent out, and reinforced, over and over and over again, using every communication means at the leader’s disposal.
Knowledge absorption also needs to be tested, and retested. If that involves the leader actually going into the field, and asking as many employees as possible about their knowledge, so be it.
I was never a believer of Osmosis – at my cable TV company I had a requirement that EVERY single one of the 1,100 employees in my department could recite our 3 key operating metrics (and the latest weekly measurements), and our company values mantra, if I happened to see them and ask them.
And oh yes, I asked. I traveled many thousands of miles to test our knowledge absorption. But it was worth it, because in the end I didn’t assume that they knew. I KNEW they knew.
Consequently, the company was much better off, and more successful, and I never heard those classic lines. The light was on.
And Mr. Spock was nowhere to be found.
Don’t succumb to the temptation to try Osmosis – put in the work. Go that extra mile. Don’t assume anything when it comes to making sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to know.