Intentional Communication


“Lack of candor blocks smart ideas, fast action and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got.  It’s a killer.” 

–     Jack Welch (b. 193x), former chairman and CEO of GE — leadership mastermind

You’ve often heard me say “intent matters more than content,” and we also covered the risk in that approach last week, and how to make sure we use our words for good and not evil.

That said, as leaders, we simply must communicate intentionally.  GE was a juggernaut during Welch’s time because candor was table stakes to be in a leadership role.

So, Blog Dog, did you read this in one of your books?

No, but I am writing that book, based, in part of this topic.

I’ve been blessed to have a dozen or so great mentors and role models, and have learned and grown from their impact.  I’ve also worked for two of the worst communicators in the history of commerce, but man would they be a waste of a Daily DIff.  Instead, we’ll focus on the two best intentional communicators I’ll ever know; Owen Sullivan, the current COO at NCR, and Dick Chapin, an absolute legend in local broadcasting.

“Chap” (long “a”) was relentless.  If any of us who came up under Dick’s tutelage happened upon one another in an airport or a football game, less than thirty-seconds would pass before we’d be recounting, in imitation of his high-pitched, banty-rooster voice, the time that he said, “Heston!  Rosie! Coughlin! Hinrikus! What the _______ were you thinking?  I swear to God, had I known you’d ________, I’d have never put my radio station in your hands!  Now get out of my office and do the job the way you can, the way I taught you…the way you’ve done it before this colossal screwup!”

He could be intimidating, and he could make you feel two-inches tall.  But if he ever did, it was for about a two-second window of time, followed by a no-less relentless effort to build us back up and make us better.

Owen is spontaneous. If he thought we were cheating ourselves or performing at less than his expectations of us he could become Mt. Sullivan.  I will never forget the day that he thought my closest teammate wasn’t “on his game.”  With very intentional communication, he told us why he wasn’t going to accept whatever mistake _____ had made from any of us, “especially” my buddy, “who’s supposed to be the best of the bunch!”  As we left the Executive Conference Room, Owen said, “______, let’s go across the street and grab a beer.”  My buddy replied, “Owen, I’m not even going to like you again until a week from Thursday.”  Owen smiled that impish, Irish smile of his, turned to his admin and said, without hesitation, “Sharon, put me and ______ down for a beer, a week from Thursday.”

It was over for him. He had moved on already, and we learned that it should be over for us, too, except for that part about getting better because of it.  I haven’t seen Owen for about ten years, Chapin closer to twenty.  But to this day, if someone were to take a crack at one of them, they’d have to go through me, and about 90% of the rest of the folks who have had great careers because Owen and Dick are exceptional leaders and intentional communicators.

But, Heston, that must have been really difficult to work for those guys…

Um, no.  We knew exactly what we were in no matter what we were in, and we knew they were in it with us, fighting at the front, where the action was.

Were there difficult days?  You bet.  Did we face some brutal market conditions and pressure on our business?  Absolutely.  Did the pressure sometimes get the best of us?  Maybe.  Did we sometimes worry they’d become unhinged?  Yeah, if we’re honest, we did.  But there is one thing that I remember about all of those times more than any other.  Laughter.  We laughed loud and long, sometimes in the middle of an intentionally delivered a**-chewing.

And it permeated our teams.  We went after one another, intentionally.  We raised our voices from time-to-time.  Intentionally, and perhaps embarrassingly, but 100% intentionally.  We defended one another and lifted one another up, intentionally.  And we laughed our butts off, sometimes with each other, sometimes at each other, but always together, spontaneously and genuinely.  I bet I’ve laughed more in tough-topic meetings with Owen, Dick, Bill Clay and Randy Watson than during the rest of the meetings in my life, and God knows there have been too many of them.

Dude, your posts this week have been too long — what do you want us to take away from this one?

  1. Communicate intentionally.  Leave no doubt.
  2. Focus so much on expectations that not a second is ever wasted wondering if we’re working on the right things.
  3. Don’t make it personal and don’t take it personally.  If we can’t be real with one another, we have the wrong people in the room or on the team.
  4. Put the passion back in.  Milquetoast ain’t the stuff of difference-makers.  Build a team that wants a piece of each other, because they know those pieces add up to something special when we’re all on the same page.
  5. Build trust and respect as foundations for intentional communication.  Not ironically, the best way to build trust and respect?  Intentional communication.  (Saw that one coming, didn’t you?)


Let’s fix the single biggest problem in communication before it happens.  Communicate. Intentionally.  It will make a difference.


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