As a Leader, You Own Your Communications Bubble

All leaders build a bubble around themselves. They can’t help it. It’s an inevitable part of being a leader.

Jarie Bolander
Jarie Bolander

All leaders build a bubble around themselves. They can’t help it. It’s an inevitable part of being a leader.

This bubble is what protects you from the daily thrash you should not pay attention to. It’s your green zone of safety that allows you to take a step back from the chaos. Taking a step back is the only way you can plan the next campaign of attack or to take in the bigger picture.

Bubbles do have a downside and you must be careful in how you construct yours. If your bubble is too thick, you won’t be able to tell fact from fiction from politics. Too thin and you’ll be whipsawed around like Andrew Neiman in Whiplash.

The other thing an ill constructed bubble does is dilute you into how much control you really have.

The Bubble Feels Like Your in Control

You have to realize that as a leader you don’t control your people. You have to persuade them to your point of you.

It may feel like you are in control but that’s because of your bubble.

You build a bubble around yourself by what you tolerate and what you expect. If people aren’t telling you the truth, it’s because you’ve set up your bubble so that the truth won’t get in.

That’s on you.

Always on you.

Not on your people.

As soon as you realize that, the better you can manage and lead your team. You need to hear the truth and the mess ups and the successes and the struggles and the challenges.

It’s the only way to be successful.

The way you react to all that will determine how open and honest your team is with you — that sets the permeability of your bubble.

If you find yourself asking questions like:

  • How come I always hear things at the last minute?
  • How come we never finish our goals?
  • Why are my folks unmotivated?
  • Why is it so chaotic around here?

Then you’ve built your bubble around folks telling you the good news, holding back the bad news, and not wanting to be the focus of someone's ire.

This will not serve you or your team at all.

If you find yourself in this situation and you want to improve, then here are some things you can do.

#1 It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Tolerate.

Talk is talk. You need to also walk the walk.

This means that what you say has to be consistent with what you tolerate.

If starting meetings on time is important to you yet you come late, no one will ever show up on time.

If you want rapid action yet you don’t do that yourself, rapid action won’t take place.

If you play favorites and let folks “get away” with things, then that’s now the standard in which folks will fall too.

#2 Battle the 10x Bad News Tax

Folks always remember the bad stuff. We are hardwired to seek out the bad so we can avoid danger, pain, and suffering. Even though we have built a mostly safe society, we still remember the emotions of bad news more than good news.

That’s why it’s critical to be as even keeled as you can be. Sure, you’ll be emotional at times but try to handle good and bad news in an equal way. Your people will be watching you.

One other thing on this one.

Say Thank you a lot. I mean way more than you think you should. Why?

It’s to battle the 10x bad news tax. It’s probably going to feel super weird at first but work hard at saying and showing gratitude.

#3 Seek the Truth no Matter How Painful

Good decisions are made with good information. Make it a point to demand that people seek the truth in all circumstances. This can be difficult in organizations with a high political charge to them.

You set the tone on this. If you don’t want to hear the truth, no one will tell you. You’ll then make bad decisions and wonder why your organization is not achieving its potential.

This does not mean you seek out the most extreme truth or skew towards those that might be inclined to be negative. Rather, it’s a balancing act between the whole truth, warts and all, and what to do about it.

#4 First to Blame

Many leaders blame their people when something goes wrong. That’s the wrong attitude to have.

As the leader, you hired them and directed them. Therefore, it’s ultimately your responsibility when something goes wrong. Of course, there are bad actors that might try and sabotage your efforts but even that’s your fault. I know, sounds harsh but in reality you’re in change and that means it’s your job to make sure folks are successful.

Now, this might be too harsh. Which is a valid point that Jason Cohen brought up on Twitter. So that's why I decided to change my thinking to a First to Blame.

#5 Last to Fame

This one may seem extreme since if it's your fault when things go wrong then how come I can’t take credit when things go right? Simple.

You did not do the work – you only directed the work. So if there is a success, it’s because your people properly executed your vision. Now, of course, you get credit for the vision and direction but everyone already knows that.

You don’t need to pump your first in the air and do a touchdown dance to show you how great you are. Your people already know this and so do others.

That’s why you have to step back and give those folks who would not normally be seen the credit they deserve. You’ll get plenty of credit (and blame) naturally.

#6 Be Compassionate But Hold People Accountable

Accountability is an important part of leadership. You want people to hold you accountable and you also need to hold others accountable. This does not mean you belittle people when they miss a deadline or do subpar work.

Rather, you need to understand the challenges someone faced, be compassionate for the circumstances they found themselves in but still hold them accountable to the results needed.

Having compassion for others in this regard allows you to set rational and reasonable standards for which you will hold yourself and others accountable. Setting and keeping a standard of performance will allow you to truly understand the challenges your folks face.

#7 Integrity Needs to be Your Middle Name

Leaders with a high degree of integrity will automatically set the right thickness of their bubble. If you take-a-way only one thing from these sets of recommendations, take this one.

Integrity will serve you well as a leader. It shows others that you value a standard, keep one yourself, and want to hear the truth no matter how painful. Doing this will not only ensure that others will follow your lead but it will also give you the respect to make the tough decisions when you need to.

Own Your Bubble or it will Own You

Don’t blame your team or your admin or your “crappy” people for not performing. Sure you might have made a mistake in hiring some underperforming people but again, that’s in you.

Even if you inherited a team or department or a boss or whatever, if you’re in charge, then you need to step up and build the type of bubble that will make you successful.

I know it sounds weird to build a layer between you and your team but you have too. This is the counter intuitive part of this.

If you don’t have a bubble to protect you from the things you should not deal with, then you’ll not only overwhelm yourself but your team will not feel empowered to get successful without you.

The answer is never to micromanage a team if the communications are breaking down or they are not performing. Rather, you need to take a long hard look at the bubble you created and make sure that it has enough insulation for perspective and enough permeability for success.

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Jarie Bolander

Jarie is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature with over 25 years of startup experience. He has also written 6 books about business and entrepreneurship.