I’m posting an excerpt from one of my articles that was published in the March 2014 issue of South Carolina Business magazine. The article covered three changes we made at Elliott Davis Decosimo. If you want to read the whole piece, feel free to check it out — “Battlefields & Boardrooms: Three Cultural Transformations in a South Carolina Company.”
We needed to change the way we communicate.
Perhaps no American leader is as revered for his various “addresses” — addresses to Congress, addresses to his troops, addresses to his officers, his extensive letters — as George Washington. His language was formal and his phrasing complex. But behind the language was intense feeling — feeling that some of us, aspiring leaders in the 21st century — might do well to express a bit more often.
Washington, for all of his scrupulous honor, his sense of tradition, his formality, and his dignity had a way of bonding with those who worked under and with him. One of the more well-described scenes during his farewell tour after retiring as General of the Continental Army was his goodbye to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York City. He filled a glass, held it up, and stated simply: “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.” And then, Washington wept. As each man came forward in silence across the long tavern room, Washington embraced him, tears flowing.
One does not often see such a display in corporate America. We live, it seems, with a bit more distance and reserve and what some call “ironic detachment.” It’s much easier to be sarcastic and witty, then easily touched or passionate.
However I do know one thing. It’s much more difficult to connect with those who live like the former, and much easier to love those who live like the latter.
Elliott Davis leaders have not taken to weeping; but we have changed the way we communicate.
For one thing, we discovered that we simply weren’t communicating frequently enough — not face-to-face nor in writing.
We also weren’t gathering enough input from everyone. So not only were we not giving information; we weren’t receiving it either.
We recognized that we needed to share information at all levels, not simply the “management level.” And we needed to be open and candid. We needed to discuss the right things with everyone.
Finally, we needed to talk more as a group, in front of one another, in order to exchange and process information together, rather than in small groups alone.
The communication channels we opened up at Elliott Davis allowed us to connect with one another more broadly and more deeply. Consequently, people at all levels understood more about what we were trying to change, and more importantly, why.