Rob Teel, Chief Technology Officer, State of Oklahoma (OMES)

Rob grew up in Los Angeles California and moved to Oklahoma where began his career in Cyber Systems Operations while serving on active-duty U.S. Air Force. He has spent 25 years in diverse technology roles. He loves a good laugh, music, great food, volunteering for good causes and doing anything outdoors and high adventure that gets him away from a computer screen. Rob’s goal is to enable digital transformation across the state of Oklahoma and the world.  


Effective communication is an essential skill for leaders today, as it allows them to articulate their vision, motivate their teams, and build relationships with stakeholders. There are several reasons why communication is important for leaders.  First, a leader must have clarity of vision. Leaders must communicate their vision clearly to their teams so that everyone understands the goals and objectives of the organization. This helps to align everyone’s efforts towards a common goal and ensures that everyone is working towards the same objectives.  Second, a leader must be able to motivate staff. Effective communication can help to inspire and motivate teams. Leaders who are able to communicate their passion and enthusiasm for their work can inspire others to work towards a shared vision.  Third, a leader must work to build authentic relationships. Good communication skills are essential for building strong relationships with stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and suppliers. By communicating effectively, leaders can build trust and credibility with these groups, which can help to improve the overall performance of the organization.  Fourth, resolve conflicts professionally and with respect others. Conflicts can arise in any organization, and effective communication can help to resolve them quickly and efficiently. Leaders who are skilled communicators can facilitate productive discussions and negotiations, which can lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.  Fifth,  A leader must be able to effectively manage change.  Communication is essential when implementing change within an organization. Leaders who are able to communicate the reasons behind the change, as well as the benefits and risks, can help to minimize resistance and ensure that the change is successful. Let’s explore some of the primary methods that leaders communicate with their team and organizations.  

The Big Conference Call

One popular method for leaders to articulate their vision to a large organization is to hold big video conference calls where everyone connects and watches the leader give a speech. Most of the time this is a monologue which can be slightly enhanced by including a questions and answers segment in the chat where people can ask questions with their name displayed or they can remain anonymous. Depending on the size of the organization there will normally be a moderator or gate keeper that fields questions to the leader. The questions served up to the leader are all easy ones, and any difficult questions are answered politically and not actually addressed. If someone has the courage to not be anonymous and puts themselves out there by asking a hard question, the poor soul may end up having a manager or director swoop-in for the body slam.  

The irony is almost comical after a leader insists, they have an open-door policy and tell you about culture and transparency and how you can come talk to them directly. All the people-managers wince when a leader says this because all it takes is one individual to send a poorly worded email or ask a difficult question and the negative ripple-effect can be severe. What normally happens is that everything is scripted, and people start scrambling when something goes off-script. Everyone involved and listening-in on the conference knows that it is scripted which causes people to instinctively tune-out. In the end, word gets out about the retribution to the person who asked the hard question, and it has a chilling effect on culture. 

There are some exceptions such as, when a leader holds an “ask me anything” type call with little to no gatekeeping.   It can be a useful way for a large organization to get to know a leader personally when everyone feels free to ask the same type of questions that one would ask over lunch or dinner.   Questions such as “what’s your favorite sports teams and why?”  or what do you like to do in your free time?”  “What is your daily routine?” “Do you play any sports or video games?”  This method can be especially effective if there is an opportunity for people to get-to-know managers, supervisors, and leaders in other departments.   In a healthy organization with good leaders, everyone should already know this kind of information about their leadership, but this is not so easy across departments.  

Sharing personal information has a two-part impact on leadership. First, it forces them to open-up, be sincere and connect in a meaningful way with the people they lead.  When a leader truly connects with people the impact on culture is transformational.   Second, in large organizations it humanizes the masses who run the risk of becoming depersonalized “headcount.”  Many leaders will shy away from these types of meaningful connections because they see it in the same way a Cattle Rancher might in naming their cows.  It just makes it more difficult to take Betsy and Matilda to the stockyards when they can just be nameless headcount; livestock sold at a price per pound when it comes to a reduction in force.  This may touch a nerve for many leaders who think they must make “tough” personnel and “performance” decisions as part of their job description.  This topic is discussed much more succinctly in Simon Sinek’s book entitled “Leaders Eat Last.” The book opens with some information about the United States Marine Corps and a story about a United States Air Force A-10 Warthog pilot flying a mission in Afghanistan. The account of this mission and the remaining contents of the book will help the leader redefine what it means to be “tough” and measure “performance.” 

Email Blasts for More Than 10-20 People

Emails…The bane of our existence. Long gone are the days when email communications were only for IT departments. Professionals and students in any field must work with more and more emails daily.  When someone is working through hundreds of emails per day it seems that those who chose a blue-collar trade were the smart ones. How many emails do carpenters, electricians and truck drivers answer a day?  One might argue that they don’t make as much money as the computer screen worshipers but think again.    There is an ancient saying, “The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance (and too many emails) permits them no sleep.”

The point here is not that we should be luddites but that there is a line to be drawn in the sand somewhere with the number of emails sent and received daily. A good barometer is a task-based message to 10 people, or the project teams a person is working with directly. A quick scroll through anyone’s inbox will reveal dozens if not hundreds of emails that have information that is mostly unusable.  The advent of Instant Messaging via Microsoft Teams or Slack has helped some because it allows people to include emojis and gifs to more effectively convey tone and to be more direct and conversational. Email blasts to large groups trying to convey a personal, cultural or emotional message are rarely effective.   Some informational email blasts can be quite useful for example, a message saying the office is closed for the holiday or who won the chili-cookoff.  Some of this is personal preference and the key to good email communication is to know the cumulative personal preferences of your teams.   “A new culture-building approach is already in place at some organizations, one in which everyone in the organization is responsible. Importantly, this model doesn’t relegate culture-building to an amorphous concept that everyone influences but no one leads or is accountable for. Shared responsibility for culture throughout an organization involves different people and functions within the organization playing different roles in developing and maintaining the culture.” (Yohn 2021).      

If a Lean Six-Sigma trained professional were to do an analysis on how to be more efficient at emails, they would end up being ninth degree blackbelts.   Their first initiative would probably be to remove the reply-all button.   Some of these email strings are like watching the same 25 car pileup video over and over again. Whether you start from the top of a message and work down or scroll to the bottom and work up it can be mined numbing especially when there is finger-pointing.  Somewhere around the 3rd reply, it becomes clear that using typed words to communicate is almost completely useless and it occurs to no one that they can pick up the phone and call, start a virtual meeting or even better, go to the persons office or bring the team into a conference room for an in-person work session.   If these kinds of emails are what you deal with most of the day, it’s no wonder you’re stressed out.    One recommendation is to take a ten-minute break and watch RC Plane crash compilation videos.  There is a mysterious connection between the time wasted on emails and watching beautiful RC planes with thousands of hours and dollars poured into them crash to the earth.  A close second might be Domino Fails though not quite as expensive as an RC plane, the time to setup the dominos is probably equal.   It’s all about preferences so if watching crashing RC planes and Domino Fails is not your idea of a mental break then pick your poison. Message me with your go-to 10-minute stress reliever. 

If you must use emails, then make them transactional yet personal and for sharing information although document sharing, and workflows have been replaced by file sharing and tools. The idea is that your emails should be personal, fun, and concise. If fun is not allowed at your office or is not your personal preference, then practicing gratitude helps and will help you and others around you relax and smile more.  

Email is not a document management system, enterprise resource planning system (ERP), customer relationship management system (CRM) or an IT Service Management System (ITSM) or any other Line of Business Application. Any attempts to use it for these purposes creates chaos. It is also a tool that has effective limits for mass communication, to build personal relationships, lead, create, influence, and sustain company culture. 

Effective communication is a critical skill for leaders in today’s fast-paced business environment. It allows them to articulate their vision, motivate their teams, build relationships with stakeholders, resolve conflicts, and manage change.

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