How Communication Shapes Outcomes


“I have no individual goals. We play for one reason and that’s to win the title. Practice is more important than the games, and I will practice when I’m hurt, when 95% of the players in this league would sit out. I expect all of you to do the same thing. You will follow my lead.”

This statement is uncompromising. Line by line it strips the audience of excuses, and pushes them toward the only acceptable outcome. The speaker invests himself first by removing an individual agenda, then gives to the others accountability and concludes by demanding their obedience to the standard he sets. This is an eloquent statement of leadership made by Michael Jordan during the second three-peat.

Certainly basketball things, shots, rebounds, passing and defense brought those championships to fruition, but the communication that a team shares should not be undervalued. As a leader, your communication sets the tone for the interaction among your people.

The words the leader chooses, the tone they are delivered in and the time they are said all seep into the collective psyche of the team, often subconciously. Active, positive talk with an upbeat delivery can energize the team or at the very least mitigate against boredom and despair from poor performance. A short, sharp tone cuts through complacency to and conveys an urgency to what follows. A calm, reasoned approach to crisis reassuring in the face of chaos. A defiant tone rises to meet percieved slight or injustice. Touches, even slaps, of humor to soften the edges and give context. These are the tools of the craft.

How they are implemented determine the culture of the team. I am distressed to consider that formal education has been of any lasting benefit to me, but as one of my degrees is in communication, I have long felt particularly attuned to the manner and purpose of communication. My most difficult times as a coach have been as an assistant when I could not control the communication of the group, and felt that it was being mis-used and at times abused.

I value my ability to set the tone of communication with my group. Often the seeds take time to mature, but when they do your team becomes powerful. The communication culture of the team is it’s identity, a self-perception fulfilling it’s own prophecy. It becomes a shorthand of technical points, benchmarks, references common history and purpose. The depth of communication culture is the depth of collective soul.

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