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Pitfalls of information underload from feed and grain leaders

What a pot of pasta can teach you about management, leadership and communication.

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In a recent scramble between my kids’ piano lessons and basketball practices, I had a great idea: I’d call my 12-year-old at home and have him start the macaroni and cheese for dinner. I nearly patted myself on the back for that one.

I thought it was an easy ask since my son has cooked before, is safe around the stove, and is very responsible. Grab a pot, put water in it, and dinner will be nearly ready by the time we get home.

I called to tell him the plan:

  • Boil some water in a pot on the stove
  • Add the macaroni
  • I’ll be home to help you drain the noodles
  • We’ll all have time to eat together before basketball practice

To my surprise, my son sounded far from confident. He had questions. Many questions.

  • What pot should I use?
  • How much water do I need?
  • Warm water or cold?
  • When do the noodles go in?
  • What do you mean, “Put a colander in the sink”?
  • How much butter should I take out of the refrigerator?

Avoid information “underload”

As I answered his slew of follow-up questions, I realized something important. My son wanted to take on this new responsibility, and he wanted to do a good job. But since he didn’t have all the tools or information he needed, he was nervous about making a mistake.

Answering his third phone call with yet more clarifications, it dawned on me how frequently this kind of scenario plays out on our teams. In our attempt to not micromanage, we often fail to give teams the specifics and details they need to succeed. When we, as leaders, assume the answers and information are obvious, we force our teams to sink or swim.

This approach creates a whole lot of anxiety.

Know what it doesn’t create? Engagement.

Because anxiety destroys engagement—along with initiative, motivation, productivity, and all sorts of other good things that businesses need to grow and thrive.

Combat anxiety with plenty of clear connections

We can quell anxiety—and, better yet, avoid creating it in the first place—by consciously creating clear connections for our employees and giving specific directions, detailed information and updates, and regular feedback that ties behaviors to company goals.

Working with a client team last month, I was reviewing an assignment I’d given them to practice their coaching skills. I’d asked participants to give recognition to another employee, and I’d challenged them to look for the things that might otherwise go unnoticed.

One employee always made sure to water the plants in the store so they looked great for customers. Another employee inspected and updated the fire extinguisher tags every month, without being asked.

Specificity is powerful and positive

Neither of these employees did these things to be recognized for their efforts. When their manager took the time to notice and thank them for their “above and beyond” contributions, both employees were a little taken aback—in a really good way. The manager later told me that, thanks to this moment of recognition, their interactions over the next few days were lighter and more upbeat than usual.

That’s the power of being specific and providing more detail than you think you might need. When you do, you set up your team to succeed—not just in a single instance but far into the future.

And that macaroni and cheese? Now my son is a pro at making it on his own.

Before you go — Read this article to find out the leadership lessons we learned while doing a jigsaw puzzle!

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