“I Need To Have A Single Point Of Contact Who Has The Ability To Resolve Any Issue Within Their Span Of Control” (Chapter 7)
As leaders, we sometimes feel obligated to know everything. Therefore, we aim to be that single point of contact when managing complex change projects. And yet, when we critically look at this situation, it quickly becomes evident that being the single point of contact can create project flaws.
I have seen leaders frantically trying to cram before flying off to meet customers, and they often hassle their team to bring them up to speed on all areas of the project. They will also demand that a PowerPoint is prepared for them so they can present summarised facts and figures.
Apart from the issue that PowerPoints do not adequately convey the right information, trying to understand too much as a leader can lead to executive overload: you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that you need to absorb, pushing your stress levels to the extreme. Not to mention the stress levels of the experts in the field who take time out of their deadline-driven work to create the PowerPoint packs.
Another problem that occurs for the leader striving to be the single point of contact is this leader is not the expert but simply a passer of information. So, rather than sharing from their perspective, the leader is merely sharing memorised notes, as they have not lived the experience themselves.
Consequently, this methodology opens the leader up to misinterpretation of the facts—a little like the popular children’s game where a message is whispered to each player down a line, with the final message heard by the group being quite different from the original one.
Many years ago, a leader I coached misinterpreted information with regularity. It wasn’t that this person had difficulty retaining information, it’s just that they could not communicate what they had learned effectively to others.
So, they would go to a workshop where new information was conveyed and then come out of that session keen to share their learning experience. But the information they shared was often not even close to the original because they would put their own spin on what they had learned—they had interpreted this information differently.
It’s a given that we will all delete, distort and generalise information; we do it all the time. It is a factor of human behaviour that relates directly to our own lived experiences, cultural background and personalities. We cannot help but view the world from our own unique perspective.
Thus, if we rely on one person to convey important facts about something complex, then it’s highly likely the information subsequently communicated will be flawed. This scenario occurs because this one person has a set of beliefs, values, experiences and memories and they apply these unconsciously when presenting information or attempting to solve a problem. Which, when you think about a complex project with complicated issues, can be dangerous.
Why does this myth surface in an organisation?
Leaders As Experts
If you take a step back and look at the structure of businesses before computers and the Internet became popular, you’ll discover that back then a leader knew a lot. This leader was the ‘go-to person’—they had more knowledge and were a powerful force because they were a specialist. So, in the past, it was possible for one person to solve even the most intricate of problems in an organisation.
But today’s organisation is more elaborate. There are more departments and more people with specialist knowledge because business has developed along with technology, and organisations are far more complex than they once were. As a result, a single leader cannot possibly know everything. Instead, they must rely on a team.