Raise your hand if you’ve heard this: “It’s a great place to work, but the leaders there communicate too much relevant information. They tell us about growth plans, and marketing challenges, and changes that are coming, and how it affects us. It’s too much. I wish they would stop.”

It rarely happens, if ever.

Ten years ago, when we integrated a leadership practice into our public relations firm, we did so on the premise that an organization’s communication strategy is typically a reflection with its leadership and its values.

But we’ve found a more practical, day-to-day connection between the two disciplines: Most leadership problems are rooted in poor communication. This can be particularly true – and especially pronounced – during periods of rapid change or growth. For many, change causes anxiety. Add “the great unknown” on top of change, and you’ve got a recipe for major discontent.

Internal communication is one of the biggest blind spots for leaders, according to two professors at Duke University, whose class I was privileged to take. Usually, it’s unintentional.

Many leaders are so focused on strategy and execution, they overlook their closest allies; they don’t incorporate it into their blueprint. Some assume that if their inner circle knows something, then “everyone knows.” Some believe their employees don’t want to be bothered with information.

But the most common thinking among leaders is, “Didn’t we already tell them in a memo three months ago? What more do they want?”

That may have worked at your grandfather’s workplace, when employees didn’t feel it was their place to ask questions; or when change came at a slower pace; or when people weren’t distracted and inundated with information.

But it doesn’t work today. Internal communication – especially about change – isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s an ongoing activity. Ideally, it reaches across multiple channels – online, in person, video, print – and through multiple messengers. It shouldn’t be one-way. Effective leaders offer information, but they also open themselves for questions and feedback, whether it’s during town halls, brown-bag lunches, online, or some other forum. Strong communication is a continuous loop.

Recently during a training session for organizations that are undergoing major change, I asked about the biggest challenges they faced: culture, processes, scale, finances, focus, et cetera. Internal communication won by a landslide.

Obviously, this isn’t a revelation. So why don’t we start? More to the point, why would we ever stop?

Russ Florence is a partner at Schnake Turnbo Frank.

Some people complain that baseball is slow. But if you contemplate every possible scenario between every play, it’s a miracle we ever finish a game.

With each pitch, hundreds of data points come together to form a plan for everyone on the field – pitcher, fielders, batter, runners. The successful anticipation of those scenarios and the response to the execution forms the basis for Situational Leadership.

Years ago, management gurus Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey formed their hypothesis for Situational Leadership. Their theory was that leadership is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different. It’s the leader’s responsibility to understand these differences, and lead accordingly.

What the study did not consider, however, was the situation. (Ironic, considering its name.) It’s not enough to understand the tendencies of your team members. You must take a 360-degree view of the situation.

Earlier this month in the Major League playoffs, Atlanta Braves pitcher Darren O’Day walked the first two St. Louis Cardinal batters. Conventional wisdom is for the Cardinals to bunt, thus moving both runners into scoring position. There was a problem. The next batter, Paul DeJong, had not bunted all year. He did, however, have 30 home runs. And he had an exceptionally high walk-rate against left-handed pitchers. O’Day is a leftie.

The Cardinals also had to factor in the speed of the base runners, Harrison Bader and Tommy Edman. They could advance easily on a sacrifice bunt. And in theory, isn’t that one of the easiest plays to execute?

Here, in one at-bat, Situational Leadership comes into play. Leaders must fully understand the strengths of each player. They must also consider the situation. Every game brings new scenarios. Cookie-cutter approaches don’t always work. Situational Leadership requires:

• Flexibility. Leaders and team members must be able to adapt to the moment.

• Courage. Most leaders stick to one way of doing things – whatever has worked in the past. The situational leader is not afraid to take chances if the situation demands it.

• Vision. It’s not just the play at hand. It’s how it affects the game three plays from now.

• Humility. The situational leader doesn’t know it all. They must accept limitations and responsibility.

A single would score one, a double would score two. After bunting one foul, DeJong took two, then swung. He flew out to left. The runners retreated and no one advanced.

Situational Leadership requires courage and risk-taking. It also takes humility.

Russ Florence is a partner at the consulting firm of Schnake Turnbo Frank.

If it seems listening has become a hot topic among leadership experts, there’s good reason: We’re not very good at it.

We’re living in an age of noise, disagreement and distraction. Everyone, it seems – political pundits, sports commentators, social media users – is talking over one another. We’re so eager to make our point that we don’t allow others to make theirs.

If we do extend them the courtesy, oftentimes we’re not present. We’re busy thinking about what we’ll say next. Sometimes, we can’t even wait until they finish their point – the one we’re not hearing – because we’ve thought of another point, and we interrupt them to make it.

Our firm’s founder, Chuck Schnake, was a stickler for listening. And by listening, I don’t mean simply being quiet. Chuck was a proponent for understanding.

In reviewing his writings, I’m struck by the recurring themes. First is one of deeds – doing what’s right. Second is listening. Interesting that a communication firm established itself on deeds and listening. There’s very little in Chuck’s notes about talking and writing.

In a document he titled “The Care and Feeding of Clients,” Chuck wrote, “Ask questions. Learn the language of the business. Learn the business itself. Listen to answers. Study the persona – likes, dislikes, political leaning, family, food, religion.”

In another, called “The Heart of Public Relations Counseling,” he advises, “Listen. You can’t begin to help a client until you know where he or she is coming from, and the only way to find out is to ask questions and listen.”

Even for a man of his generation – born in 1931 – he was an advocate for technology. Early in the advent of social media, Chuck implored us to pay attention. He studied up on blogs and digital media breakthroughs. Chuck was one of the first in our firm to have a Twitter account. He understood the potential impact of a social media-driven world.

But I’m certain today, Chuck would admonish anyone who kept checking text messages, news alerts and Facebook status updates during a one-on-one conversation.

Last month our firm hosted the second Inclusion and Diversity Summit in Oklahoma City. On a day filled with wisdom, the words of one speaker, LaTricia Hill-Chandler of Arvest Bank, stand out:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

It’s a lesson we all should hear.

Russ Florence is a partner at Schnake Turnbo Frank.

When I was named partner, I recall a conversation with our firm’s founder, the late Chuck Schnake.

“I sense that I need to rise up a step,” I said. “But I’m not sure what that means. Or what it looks like. Or how to get there.” (If you’re now wondering how I made partner, I don’t blame you.)

Those of us who knew Chuck recall his “side of the hill” analogy.

“You spend much of your day digging a ditch,” he said. “Head down, working hard. But occasionally, you need to go up on the side of the hill. Take a look at the bigger picture, get some perspective.”

Chuck’s metaphor was spot-on for a many scenarios, from athletics, to creativity, to personal growth. It’s especially true for organizational leadership.

Making the transition from “management” to “leadership” isn’t always easy. It’s a gradual shift. You don’t flip a switch into a new role. And it’s rarely one or the other – most people in leadership still work in management.

While there’s some overlap, there are ways to differentiate between the two disciplines.

Management typically means dealing with what’s in front of you – projects, budgets, staffing, deliverables. Leadership means looking ahead. A hallmark of great leadership is to look over the horizon, anticipate what’s coming and develop a strategy.

Management is concrete. Leadership is abstract.

Management is more task-oriented. Leadership is people-oriented.

Management has a narrower focus, but deeper in details. Leadership means a broader focus, not as deep.

Some leaders struggle to let go of previous day-to-day tasks. This is the expertise that’s fueled your career; you’ve built your reputation around it. Now you’re being asked to back off.

Leaders owe it to themselves and others to stay out of the weeds. Doing so empowers your team and entrusts confidence.

Not letting go is often symptomatic of other things. It could mean you don’t have the right people in place. If so, develop them or make a change.

It could mean you don’t believe they can do it as well as you. You may be right. But show some grace; allow them to succeed on their own merits.

Or it could mean you’re clinging to your old duties as a security blanket. If so, make a clean break. Recommit yourself to your new role.

It’s the only way you’ll get the headspace needed to prosper in your new role.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He writes a monthly column for The Journal Record.

A few weeks ago, one of my business partners and I spent time with four executives who argued relentlessly and disagreed about everything.

Positions were staked. Sides were taken. Everyone dug in.

It was awesome. In fact, it was one of the healthiest, most productive groups we’ve facilitated in months.

Many people think conflict management is synonymous with conflict avoidance. To the contrary, conflict in an organization – when it’s healthy, productive, and professional – should be welcome and, in fact, pursued.

Far too often, conflict and disagreements remain unspoken. Some people choose not to verbalize their disagreement; they keep it to themselves. Worse yet, some people take their beefs to someone else, a co-worker whom they hope to win over as an ally.

These actions may prevent the initial awkwardness of open disagreements. But they can result in resentment, spite, or an undercurrent of mistrust. On a larger scale, a conflict-averse culture means that good ideas – that could ultimately improve revenue or organizational health – are not voiced. And that’s not fair to your colleagues or organization.

When it’s done right, healthy conflict opens the lines of honest communication. It removes hidden agendas and challenges the status quo. It ensures that the best ideas are presented, debated, and fully considered.

The operative word here is “healthy.” What does healthy conflict look like?

First, it’s not personal. Challenge the behavior or the idea, but don’t hit below the belt. Keep it professional and be honest, even if it stings a bit.

Second, healthy conflict doesn’t give you a license to steamroll over the people with whom you disagree. You have to listen. Keep an open mind. Consider others’ viewpoints. Good conflict isn’t just a one-way ticket for you to “give them a piece of my mind.”

Third, pay attention to how you respond when someone disagrees with or challenges you. The surest way to kill an environment of open dialogue is to instinctively dismiss or disrespect the person who brings it to you. They’re showing trust that you’ll receive the feedback as you had intended. When you receive it like a pro, and you’re reciprocating that trust and respect.

And finally, even if you can’t agree, find some sort of resolution. Don’t let it damage your relationship or impede progress of the organization. Figure out how to coexist with your disagreements.

Organizations thrive when people learn how to disagree openly, passionately, and respectfully.

Russ Florence is a partner at Schnake Turnbo Frank and shares a monthly column with the Journal Record.

One summer day when I was a kid, I walked into my grandparents’ house to get a drink of water, only to hear what sounded like a fire-and-brimstone sermon from the back bedroom. If clouds were to part; if lightning were to strike; if thunder were to rattle the house – now would be the time.

Who was delivering this spirited, divine message? And just as importantly (at least to my 7-year-old ears), who was on the receiving end?

The answer to the first question was my Uncle Keith. He was a teenager, but already had determined he would be a minister. He had been invited to preach at the Free Will Baptist Church in Poteau that Sunday.

So, on that day, he was practicing. All by himself, in an empty room.

Some leadership and communication skills can be learned by reading, or observing, or thinking. Public speaking isn’t one of them. You have to practice.

Our firm’s founder, Chuck Schnake, was a disciple of leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith, whose best-known book is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. The premise is that what gets you hired out of college – and what gets you promoted through the first half of your career – bears little resemblance to what gets you to the C-suite.

The higher you advance, the more important the soft skills, like interpersonal communication, emotional IQ, performance management, vision, conflict management – and presentation skills.

According to a study by Forbes, 86% of executives say good presentation skills helped advance their careers. That’s an astounding number.

If, for example, you’re a young petroleum geologist at an oil and gas company, you’ll earn your stripes by being an excellent geologist. But that alone doesn’t punch your ticket to the top. It requires communication and “people” skills.

Indeed, “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Our firm routinely works with executives who wish to sharpen their communication skills, whether it’s talking to the media, holding employee town halls, or preparing a shareholder presentation. The only way to learn, in our view, is to prepare, get on your feet, deliver your message, get constructive feedback, and then practice again.

Baseball players don’t become great hitters only by reading books and watching videos. To be the best they can be, they spend hours in the batting cage. Swing, after swing, after swing.

Like my Uncle Keith, you have to practice.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He shares a monthly column in thein The Journal Record.

Have you ever taken off work to spend an afternoon at a museum? Gone to the movies at 10 a.m., on a random weekday? Ditched work for a day at the ballpark?

Call it constructive loafing.

A few years ago, I coached a client who had six young children and was CFO of a major health care entity. He’s a great father and husband, and plays a critical role at his business. His days are packed. He helps get the kids dressed and to school. During the day he’s in budget, staff and operations meetings. At night it’s dinner, kids’ activities, baths and bedtime stories. He had no time to himself.

I never heard him complain. He was living his best life.

One day I asked if he ever played hooky. He lit up.

“We’re taking vacation this summer,” he said. “We’re loading everyone in the van and driving to California. It’s all planned out. I have a spreadsheet.”

“No,” I said. “I’m talking about a day for you. To loaf – going fishing, sitting in a park reading a book.”

He looked at me like I’d gone mad. I could read his expression: “Just like that? Isn’t that cheating? How will they get by without me?”

Here’s a little secret: They’ll be fine without you. Your mental health – thus, constructive loafing – is in everyone’s best interest. Block your calendar and dive into something you rarely get to do, if even for an afternoon. And don’t stay home to clean the garage. The goal is to shake yourself from your rut and reset your mind. If you feel like you’re getting away with something, you’re doing it right.

One of my favorite moments is sitting down at a baseball game, a fresh scorebook in my lap. I love that it forces me to pay strict attention – to track every pitch and every movement. It locks me into the moment. It makes me appreciate every nuance of the game. For three hours, my mind stays away from emails, schedules and meetings.

What’s your best form of constructive loafing? A morning at the botanical garden? An afternoon in the country?

The Big 12 Baseball Tournament comes to Oklahoma City. I’ll be at one of the 9 o’clock morning games. Just me, my coffee and scorebook. If you’re there, come say hello. But don’t be offended if I don’t seem to notice.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He shares a monthly column in thein The Journal Record.

Earlier this month, a retired Tulsa CEO recounted the crises he managed during his 40-year career as an energy executive. Between natural disasters, equipment malfunctions, and a fluctuating market, he found himself before glaring television cameras, hostile town-hall gatherings, skeptical juries and elected officials looking to score points.

Steering an organization through a crisis is part of a leader’s job. Handled poorly, it can cost the company dearly. Shareholder value may drop, as can reputation, regulatory standing, the ability to recruit top talent – even relationships with suppliers and banks can tank.

Steering an organization through a crisis is part of a leader’s job. Handled poorly, it can cost the company dearly. Shareholder value may drop, as can reputation, regulatory standing, the ability to recruit top talent – even relationships with suppliers and banks can tank.

Yet, during the executive’s comments at our firm’s Leadership & Reputation Academy, another impact seemed to hurt most: the loss of confidence among staff.

More than a decade ago, a company employee was accused of embezzling more than $6 million. It was a prototypical case. The embezzler was “the last person you would expect,” the executive said. As the heist worked, the employee gained more confidence, took more chances and ultimately was caught.

He was found guilty and served time. But now the leadership team had another dilemma: facing employees who had serious questions about the competence of company leadership. “How could this have happened? How do you let $6 million slip through the cracks? How could our financial controls have been so lax?”

Those were tough days, the executive said. There was no shortcut to regaining trust. It required an overhaul of the company’s financial controls and processes. Mainly, though, it took effective communication – listening, understanding, honesty, and not being defensive. You can’t spin your way out of it.

I’m curious how Boeing’s internal culture has been affected by its recent airliner crashes. The external ramifications are obvious, and that’s where most leaders and crisis experts would focus attention. But Boeing’s long-term viability may hinge on its ability to preserve the tenacity and confidence of its engineers. No one wants to be part of a company whose reputation – for being able to keep planes in the air – has taken a blow.

Boeing’s challenge now is to answer those tough questions from employees. Especially the questions that are never asked. “How could this happen? What does this mean? Is this the company I thought it was?”

As with any other crisis, a key to recovery is leadership’s ability to stay hyper-focused of the questions brewing inside.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He shares a monthly column in thein The Journal Record.

Do opposites really attract? Sometimes. But if your organization’s mission isn’t at the forefront, opposites can collide.

When our firm’s two longest-serving partners merged to establish one company, it wasn’t because they were clones.

Russ Florence recently shared in The Journal Record how differences in leadership style can serve to complement one another, using our very own Steve Turnbo and Chuck Schnake as an example. Read the entire column here.

Schnake Turnbo Frank Partner, Chief Operating and Inclusion Officer Russ Florence recently launched a monthly leadership column in the Journal Record. Here’s a exert of the latest column titled: “When doing less is more.”

“Sometimes, to achieve more, you need to do less.

High achievers tend to equate high performance with more activity. More goals, more products and services, more meetings, more time. It’s a natural supposition: Want more? Do more.”

Read the full article here.