cleaning out his office files. It was a Monday afternoon and faced
with mountains of old documents and reports, he stacked them on top of
his wastebasket with a sign reading: “Rubbish.”
The next day, the papers were still there, so he added the words,
“Please remove.” On Wednesday, nothing had changed, and therefore a
more explicit notice was used. “This is rubbish,” it said, “I do not
want it. Please remove.” Thursday revealed the need for still stronger
words: “This is rubbish, refuse, garbage, get it out of here!” This
sign had been heatedly scrawled with a red felt-tipped marker. On
Friday, the papers were still not removed. However, a small note in
pencil had been written beneath Thursday’s sign. It read: “Cannot
remove unless marked ‘trash.’
Let’s face it, communication styles are as varied as leadership styles
and striking the right balance for leaders can be a challenge.
Frustrations can mount like that of the worker who could not get rid
of the trash in his office simply because of a communication barrier.
In his book, Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies
from a Life at Disney, Lee Cockerell shares an insightful perspective
about lines of communication. He writes, “It’s almost always a good
idea to minimize the number of layers in your organization, so you can
deal directly with as many people as possible. Each layer through
which information is filtered multiplies the inaccuracies and
distortions, making it much more likely that something minor will
snowball into a serious problem.”
A leader who desires to be an effective communicator is dependent upon
many factors not least of which are flat lines that extend to and from
as many people as possible. Organizational layers need to be few in
order for the delivery of transparent and reciprocal information.
Consider these three observations about flat line communication.
Flat line communication connects people.
In the book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, John Maxwell states,
“I believe that almost everything we become and all that we accomplish
in life are the result of our interactions with others. If you also
believe that to be true, then you know that the ability to connect
with others is one of the most important skills a person can learn.”
A challenge within many organizations is too few channels in which
information can flow. Filtered information is information denied. And
this can potentially have dire consequences for your organization. As
you learn to flat line communication channels you will have a
connection with your people that will broaden your perspective and one
your team will appreciate.
Flat line communication builds community.
When your team comes together on flat lines the ground is level.
Community is built when communication sources up and down the line are
valued. When value is given; value will be received.
When was the last time you heard directly from the workers in the
trenches within your company? Do you seek out advice as generously as
you give it? Community is built through communication. Community in
your organization is the result of connected people.
Flat line communication breaks barriers.
In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber writes about the effects
of border guards within your corporate structure. His thesis is that
you need to keep people around you that aren’t afraid to speak the
truth to power. He states, “Border guards in the form of
administrative assistants or executive vice presidents keep these
disagreeable people away from the boss. If you’re the leader, whether
you let them into your life-at home and at work- is a choice only you
The best job for border guards is to open the doors of communication
not close them. Flat lines built on trust and respect will do you more
good than any fear you had otherwise. Flat lines are your pathway to
connecting with your people, building community, and breaking
What do you say?
Doug Dickerson is a syndicated columnist. He writes a weekly column
for this newspaper. To contact Doug Dickerson, email him at