Communication is the Oxygen of Leadership (Part 1 of 3)

1971 Titans

Leadership is our ability to positively influence others. As such, it is fundamentally a relational skill. It has been said, “Communication is the oxygen of relationships.” Without good communication, relationships die. Consequently, without good communication, leadership doesn’t stand a chance.

In the early 70s, many communities in the United States were in the process of dismantling segregation. Alexandria, Virginia was one such community. It took tangible steps toward equality when it combined the populations of three area high schools into one. Two had been white and one was black. Herman Boone, a black man, was chosen to be the football coach at the new high school ……. over Bill Yoast, a very popular white coach. This added to the tension, especially since Yoast and another white man became Boone’s assistant coaches. Boone did everything in his power to bring the players and his coaching staff together. And it worked. That season, the team won the state championship and became the second highest ranking high school football team in the country!

When asked what the secret was to this high-performing team’s success, Boone stated, “Communication. Talking to each other. Getting to know and appreciate each other. We forced the kids to spend time with each other to find out things about each other. Every player was required to spend time with teammates who were a different race.” Result: the team went undefeated. And that is why, to this day, the people of Alexandria still remember, and talk about, the 1971 Titans.

You cannot have a high performance team unless you have communicative players on the team. Without communication you don’t have a team, you just have a collection of individuals. You will be a much more effective communicator, and leader of your team, if you follow these 12 principles:

  1. Do not isolate yourself. The key problem Herman Boone had to overcome on his newly formed team was isolation. The players of one race isolated themselves from the other. Any time a player, or the leader, becomes isolated, it is a problem for the team. Great leaders can be found in and among their team members every day.
  2. Make it easy to communicate with each other. Most communication problems can be solved with proximity. That’s why Herman Boone used it to get his team to gel. Putting players of different races on the same bus and in the same dorm rooms at camp made communication more likely to happen.
  3. Follow the 24 hour rule. When some people are faced with conflict or interpersonal difficulties, they avoid the person with whom they are having the problem. But without knowing both sides of the problem, people tend to give the benefit of the doubt to themselves and to assign negative motives and actions to others. Without good communication, the problem just festers. Team members need to follow the twenty-four hour rule. If you have any kind of difficulty or problem with a teammate, don’t let more than twenty-four hours go by without addressing it.

Check back next week as we continue our review of the 12 great principles of communication.

Leave a Reply