Ep 47: Communicate Like A Leader

Welcome to the first episode of Communicate I/O! In this episode, Erica talks about the very real cost, cultural and individual impact of ineffective communication from people in leadership roles. She shares easy tips using the I/O method to help you get alignment between what you say (or send) and what is received. Erica reminds listeners about the aggregate impact of words and language as it relates to the culture you’re creating.

This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


communication, words, communicate, leaders, inputs, email, podcast, people, intentionality, recipient, outcomes, listening, output, workplaces, mindset, energetics, leadership, culture

Erica Mills Barnhart 

Welcome, welcome, welcome to the first episode of the Communicate I/O podcast. If you’re listening, and you’re wondering where the heck the Marketing for Good podcast went, go back and listen to the previous episode. The short version is, I’m shifting away, Claxon is shifting away from focusing on words and marketing, toward words as a way to revolutionize workplaces and, of course, by extension, the world. That’s what’s happening, so much more in the episode immediately prior to this. So I want to dig in to Communicate I/O, and what this podcast is all about. So who it’s for is for leaders, purpose driven leaders in particular who like to get results and who want every tool in their toolbox to get them. Communication is I mean, it’s clutch right when it comes to leading and leadership, you know, that. So it’s interesting, right? I’m curious why there is such ineffective un-leaderly communication happening. This cost companies millions of dollars, it’s a big, big, big, big deal. So why does keep happening? I always say like communication isn’t rocket science, right? It’s not. But look, the reality is, most leaders get promoted because of subject matter, expertise or experience. Not because they’re fabulous communicators, per se. And in fact, that very thing that gets people into leadership positions, like being super smart about technology, or immunology, or anthropology doesn’t need to be something that is an ology, that’s just how that came out. This can work against them in terms of how they communicate as a leader, right? It can be very technical, and being able to translate that technical expertise, or you know, whatever the expertise is and transition that into leadership communication, that can be really tough for a bunch of reasons that we will talk about on future episodes. Also, a lot of what we’re all taught in school about communication creates chaos and confusion and a business context, both of which are costly. So yeah, I mean, the way that we’re taught sort of installs teams out rather than helping them to accelerate forward. So all of that’s happening. That is Erica’s has hypothesis on part of why communication isn’t prioritized. And why we have I mean, let’s look, let’s talk about these numbers about the cost of ineffective communication, because they are, they’re staggering. So according to research done by Rogen International, ineffective communication costs small businesses, includes nonprofits, with 100 employees $420,000 a year. $420,000 a year. At the other end of the size spectrum, if you have 100,000 employees, you’re flushing $62.4 million down the toilet every single year. Isn’t that staggering? Just to put an even finer, scarier point on it, that research only factored in email communication, which is still super important, but one form of communication and also it’s dated it was in 2009. So was the nerd in me tempted to like adjust those for inflation and a few other things? Yes, yes, the nerd in me was but that wasn’t going to be a good use of my time and I stopped myself from doing that. Because we don’t really need it to be that specific, like close enough for horseshoes. The point is, that’s just a ton of money that could be put towards something else. When I speak and coach it’s primarily to and with people in leadership positions and that’s because every word that comes out of a leaders mouth or fingers is amplified because of positional authority and the power that leaders hold. So the ripple effect of shoddy communication at the executive level, it’s massive. The higher up the corporate food chain, you go, or you find yourself the more poor, effective, shoddy crappy communication costs, like there is a correlation there, a cost correlation. Also, leaders, not exclusively, but to a great extent, have power to shape organizational culture, their words can create a culture where people feel included and inspired, or demoralized and deflated. I think we can all agree that we want the former not the latter, right? Workplaces where people feel included and inspired, those are their workplaces that are changing the world, whatever it is that they’re doing. One line of code, one randomized controlled trial, one sale, one sale boat, whatever the company does, they’re changing the world by changing the workplace. And whether they know it or not, they’re doing the change one word at a time, the aggregate effect of communication shapes culture. It’s important to, I just think, pause and realize that the aggregate effect of words and the ripple effect of that. So there’s the organizational impact, that’s what we’ve been talking about, and cost of poor communication. There’s also an impact on individuals. It feels crappy, to communicate crappily. When you’re a leader who cares about your work and your team, you know, you want to do well for them, and by them, and I’m yet to meet a leader who you know, wakes up and is like, “Today is a good day for chaotic, confusing communication. Yes, today’s the day let’s do this thing. That sounds fantastic. Let’s do that”. I guess as I’m saying that I will sidebar and say Yes, sometimes there is intentional miscommunication that happens. So apparently, there are leaders maybe who wake up and think that but, I mean, I haven’t met those people personally. And I think that’s not the intention. It’s not the intention. And here’s actually something important for us to talk about, which is unless you have like a big presentation, very few leaders proactively think about communication at all, or very much, you know, they jot off emails and posts on Slack and Team and convene meetings. I mean, they’re using words in all sorts of ways throughout every single day and since they are adults, they’re using 15,000 words on average, because that’s how many most adults use in a day. And in my experience, very few of them bring a level of intentionality to their communication that is commensurate with the intentionality they bring to strategy and planning, and you know, all the other elements of their work. And yet note, communication underlies so much of what a leader does. Now, I am being a bit harsh, I realize it sounds like I’m harshing on the leaders mellow, some leaders, maybe you, dear listener, pay attention to your communication on the regular, just part of what you do. But many, many, many don’t. And I think we can extrapolate from the information that research that I mentioned earlier, I kind of know that to be true. Because if there was that level of intentionality, we would not see all that money going out the door because of ineffective communication, right? So many don’t. And many, many companies do not have a culture that prioritizes and systematizes, effective, happy making productivity inducing communication. So I’m not like laying this at the feet of individual leaders. This is again, this gets back to this is a culture issue. And oftentimes, communication is kind of like a free for all. Organizations are increasingly identifying channels to use. So you know, maybe you’re primarily an email organization still increasingly might be Slack or Teams or something like that for internal communication. But there’s little guidance on the content, even if that’s in place. Little guidance on the content that goes into those channels. It’s really very interesting. And this, this is where Communicate, I/O comes in. This is a different way a systematizable way, a predictable way to communicate effectively. It’s so simple. I mean, it’s so flippin simple. And it’s it’s highly effective. Anyone can learn Communicate I/O. Literally everyone. It takes a little effort. Yes, especially at first. I mean, as with anything new, it takes time to develop the new habits and skills and ways of thinking and doing so I’m not saying it’s instantaneous. It does take a little effort. And it is a communication mindset as much as a skillset and I’ll tell ya, it’s that mindset that gets the real results. Mindset equals money in the bank and happiness in the heart. There are skills to learn, like I said, and I’ll keep sharing those on this podcast, they will be specific and practical and things you can use as soon as you hear them, as soon as you hear them. That’s my promise to you. But a skill set without that mindset isn’t going to be as effective. So that’s why we’re going to talk about both. So let’s break this down a little bit more. What is communicate I/O? So Communicate I/O, the I/O refers to inputs and outcomes, I is for inputs O is for outcomes for my tech and clan leaders who are listening. Yes, I/O usually refers to inputs and outputs spot on, we’re gonna talk about outputs too, they do factor in. But to get results when it comes to communication, the O that matters is outcomes. What are you hoping to achieve? From there, you can reverse engineer based on what your listener, your audience, your who, your listener, your audience your recipient is. So communication is always you know, there’s always two things going on, right? What is sent or said, depending, and then there is what is received. Okay, so what is sent, what is received, your goal is to get as much alignment between those two things as possible. This means intentionally asking, how will the person on the other end of my communication best receive my message? Whatever the message may be, right? If you don’t ask this, you’ll project meaning you’ll go with your own preferences. And this is where so much communication goes awry for the recipient or recipients sometimes plural. Right? Like, again, this is about how will they receive it? Do they prefer email? Maybe they’re an in-person person? Is this someone who likes to get a heads up? Or to set meetings in advance? Or are they good with you popping in? We all have different preferences, right? We’re going to talk about communication styles, a whole lot more on future episodes, knowing the communication style of your team is imperative. It is communication gold. So we’ll come back to that. But you need to get clear. So first, you’re saying what are the outcomes, and then who is receiving the message and get clear on how the message will best be received, you can think of this as the output, okay, emails and meetings and all of these things, use your outputs. And then with great intentionality, then you’re going to turn your attention to the inputs themselves, the words, the syntax, the grammar, the fonts, the all of that stuff, right? Also things like, you know, getting granular, like if it’s an email, how are you opening and closing it? Are you consistent? And if there’s a deviation from that, how is that going to be received? Ditto with memos. And then of course, always paying attention to your verbs, always verbs. More on this again, in future episodes, I’ve talked about it in past episodes, but we will come back to it verbs are the superheroes of every sentence after all, so they’re really important. So, really focusing at that level on the inputs. And then you know, you have different inputs depending on the output. So if the output is going to be something verbal, right, so a presentation or a meeting, you have other inputs to work with, tone of voice, gestures, both of those are part of para language, your pacing, your pauses, you can get very strategic with silence, there are so many options, so much opportunity to up the odds that your message will in fact be received as you intend and hope it will be and clearly based on the aforementioned cost of crappy communications, so much opportunity for mishaps and mistakes really for the message to completely or mainly miss its mark it can go both ways. And I think that’s the power of Communicate I/O is its simplicity. Now maybe that sounds like a lot maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with the prospect of this much intentionality. I want you with me to take in a deep breath, hold it, and then we’re going to exhale for longer than we inhale. Why did we do that? You’ve just calmed your central nervous system, congratulations. What this allows is your mind to open up a little bit, your body to calm down so your mind can be open to change. It’s your way of saying your mind like it’s okay to be open to this newfangled Communicate I/O thing, we’re gonna be okay even though maybe we’re going to do things a little bit different. Because otherwise that reptilian part of our brain is gonna like, no, no, no to the new thank you for very much. That reptilian part of our brain likes to do things just as we’ve been doing them, even though there’s a way to get better results, we really have to do that mind work. This is part of the mindset work that comes along with it right to say, like, no, no, we’re gonna do this thing. We’re okay. We can try this. Now, if you listen to this podcast, in its previous incarnation. You’ll know, and by that I mean, when it was called Marketing for Good, you will know about the energetics of language. Say it with me, words matter, because they are matter. They have physicality, they make an impact. They create grooves in our brains, right? So we know this to be true. And if you know about the energetics of language, you know that every word has its own energy, and it puts that energy off into the world. So this is another piece of Communicate I/O is really being able to channel the energetics of language which gets really fun really fast. And you’re busy, right? So like, if you’re sending like, Oh, holy doodle, Erica, I cannot possibly I just don’t have time for this level of intentionality. Of course, you don’t. Not every text and email and Slack or Teams message or whatever needs to be like a work of communicative art, prioritize communication opportunities, and that’s how I want you to think about this as opportunities that will bring the most value to you, to your work, to your team, to the world, over time. Each day, here’s an invitation, each day, maybe starting today, depending on when you’re listening to this, but maybe it’s tomorrow, identify one opportunity that you want to prioritize, that if you get that opportunity, it will get you those outcomes, those results that you want, just one a day. And you know what, if you don’t want to start in the workplace, you can try this at home. Really, you can, just one a day. That’s it start there. Okay, and you’re going to work this system, what is the outcome I want or need to achieve with this opportunity? Who was the recipient or recipients? How did they prefer to receive messages? Based on this which output is best suited to this opportunity? This is going to mitigate projecting, send an email, huddle, in-person, Slack message or text, signal. I don’t know? Do I need to call a team meeting? All outputs, okay. So decide on your output based on who the recipient is. Once that’s decided, and again, note, this can be fast, right? Like, once you get into the groove with this, you will be able to identify your outcome and your outputs faster than it has taken me describe this to you. Which is kind of ironic and funny. In the spirit of teaching something new, I’m going to stick with it but just know, like, once you get the hang of it, this can go really quickly. Okay, so you’ve identified the outcomes that you want to achieve the output, and then it’s about the inputs, right? Like, what are those words? How are you going to say it? Are you going to strategically use silence? I don’t know. How can you up the odds of your message landing? That’s where the inputs come in. That’s Communicate I/O, it’s simple, it’s a little different, it’s effective, it can be fun. You know what makes it fun? Because like I said, once you get the hang of it, like, yeah, this is mindset and a skill set, you get better at it, as with anything that we you know, work on, and you get better results. I mean, you get better results. That feels good, right? That’s fun and it’s energizing to be a leader who knows how to communicate with clarity and confidence. And who was modeling that for your team. This again, a conversation for another day for a future episode, but really important in terms of leadership and communications to be mindful what you’re modeling. I want to say this, I want to come clean. I’m on this communication journey right along with you. I’m a “communication expert”. I study words. I’ve been working Communicate I/O for a long while. I still slip up and mess up all the time. We all have  go to things we do communication wise, that are that are not I/O-esq. I’ll share two of mine. Okay. The first is I create chaos and confusion. I just did this earlier today.  I know I did. And I do it because I get so excited about something. I get so excited about things, like Communicate. I/O, I mean, I’m excited. So, I know what the outcome looks like And I’ve been clear about communicating that right. It’s things like we launched the website and the podcast so we can serve and support 1 million leaders. 1 million leaders. Very, very clear. But I get going and the ideas start flowing so fast, so furious, that can be really hard for people on my team to keep up because I’m just not sequencing things in a way that that makes it clear. And that’s not because they’re anything other than awesome, amazing, rockstars. I have incredible people who support me. It’s because I’m over here bobbing and weaving so fast with my words that it’s like, oh my god, Erica stop, wait, which version are we using? So, I really have to mind my mind, I need to assure myself that It’ll all get done. I can take the time to pull together clear communication, a comprehensive email or Google Doc or whatever it’s going to be. You know, it’s like impatience plus enthusiasm kind of works against my best intention sometimes. And so that happens, right? And when I’m doing that I’m not working, Communicate, I/O. The other thing I do, and I’ve gotten consistent feedback about this. So I know it’s an issue. And yet I persist. I’m aware of it. I’ve noticed, it step one. And sometimes sometimes, like, you know, I catch myself, I use big words. I mean, I like big words, I cannot lie and I use them when a simpler one would be more effective. Right? Like, our brains don’t want to work hard, it is almost always in our best interest. Just to pick the simplest, the simplest words, easy enough to communicate, because then the recipient doesn’t have to use precious brain cells and brainpower to understand it. And again, there’s a difference between simple and simplistic, okay? That doesn’t mean the recipient doesn’t know big words. It’s just like, you know, that takes up energy. When I’m really on a roll, I don’t just use like one big word, because I’m gonna talk about this actually, sometimes a very intentional use of a big or unexpected word can be super effective because of novelty. Yeah, I just start using big words. And I’m stringing them together. And this is the downside of enthusiasm. I am not saying that’s a reason for doing it, my enthusiasm, but it causes confusion and consternation, and it’s costly. And it’s costly in the same way that using jargon is, right? Somebody genuinely might not know what I’m talking about. But it also makes people feel yucky, when they don’t know what you’re saying, what I’m saying when I’m on a roll and doing this thing that I do. And that if we link this back to culture, it’s antithetical, big word, to create a culture where people feel included, right? It goes against that value that I hold, so it’s out of values alignment, so it’s a really bad communication thing that I do like to have big words. You know, the movie, Say Anything? And the young woman, I’m forgetting the actor, but the young woman puts a mark by each – John Cusack is like in a room, and he’s looking at a dictionary, and there’s all these marks in her dictionary and he’s like, “what’s that about?” She’s like, “Oh, well, I put a mark by each of the words when I look them up”, and most people, including the John Cusack character are like, “okay, that’s kind of weird. I don’t know what to think about that”. Well, I want to confess something, which is, I mean, just when you thought that that couldn’t get any geekier. Let me just up the geek factor a little bit here for you. I put checkmarks in a dictionary, but it was in my French English dictionary, because I was a French major in undergrad, I toted this thing, I’m holding it right here, I am, to France and back and I’ve had it for okay over half a lifetime at this point that really boggles the mind and I put a checkmark. So for fun I did I just pulled it out. Okay, and I’m just gonna I’m gonna read the first word that has a checkmark by it because there it is créneaux. Now I don’t know what that means, maybe at the time I remembered what it meant. Fair un créneaux. Oh, is to reverse into a parking space. J’ai raté mon créneaux means I parked badly. I don’t know. I never took a driving test over there. I don’t know why the heck I was looking at the word WORD. But now I know. I did. Does anybody else do that? I’m not sure. It resonated with me. Right. So this is, I have a long, long history, which I’ve talked about in previous episodes and I’ll probably share more about it, with language and words and the role that it’s played in my life. So I have a soft spot for them. And especially when I’m in a leadership role, which you know, I am, I find myself there, I need to be minding my words, because like, big words do not serve, like I said, that’s not in alignment with my values of making people on my teams feel included. So it’s something I have to work on. So this is my long winded way of saying, I’m on this journey with you. Sometimes we misuse our inputs, it is rarely the end of the world. In fact, the world is still here. So it’s never the end of the world. But it really can have big impacts, especially again, there’s the aggregate impact of words and language as it relates to individuals within your organization, and also the culture that you’re creating. So that’s Communicate I/O in a in a nutshell. It’s a mindset. It’s a skill set. And I want to close with an invitation just for you to be thinking about, are you open, are you up for changing up how you communicate? In starting with how you think about communicating? Are you open to prioritizing communication as you do other things on your leadership docket? Is there the readiness there? Like I said, a lot of what we’re gonna cover on this podcast, you don’t have to like embrace the entire thing and do it all the time. I’m going to keep things practical, because that’s how I roll. But I hope you’re open to it and that you’re open to just being on the journey and we’re gonna have some fun. Like I mentioned earlier, my goal is to get at least 1 million leaders fluent in Communicate I/O. I’ve seen the difference that can make, I’m excited to see leaders go through their transition from chaos and confusion to clarity and confidence, that just never gets old. It’s wonderful for everybody involved. So if you’re up for it, join me on the next episode, we’re gonna take a look at a word that is near and dear to a lot of our hearts and put it under the microscope as it were. So I’m excited about that. If you are as excited as I am, you know what, you don’t even need to be as excited as I am, you could take it down a couple notches. If you’re lowkey excited about this and you think it will be helpful to other leaders, leaders like you who are looking and open to ways of growing and expanding and upping your leadership game. If you will share this episode rate, review, do all those things. I would I was so appreciate it. It’s a big deal and I would appreciate it. I appreciate you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for sharing and listening and doing what you do in the world which is amazing work. We are just getting started on this communication journey together and I cannot wait to bring you and for you to hear the next episode of Communicate I/O.

Are you a leader that communicates with clarity and confidence?