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Buffering Others From a Leader

There is often such deference paid to authority that the slightest comment made by a leader is taken literally. Leaders can be mortified to find an off-the-cuff comment they made was construed to be “policy,” a one-time solution to a unique situation was interpreted as a change in standard procedure, or an angry reaction was conveyed as their final position. If an instruction from a leader seems to fly in the face of good sense, a follower at any level should request clarification before implementing it. This seems to be such common sense as to not deserve mention, but the principle is often violated by followers who have not yet found their own locus of responsibility.

If we work as a close aide to a leader we have a special role to play in relaying communication from the leader. We must sometimes function as a step-down transformer, taking a high voltage emanation from the leader and modulating it so it can be received usefully at its intended receipt point several levels down an organization. The leader would do the same if she were talking to people she only sees occasionally. Just as we often address new acquaintances with more circumspection than we do intimate friends, the different levels of comfort and familiarity some people have with the leader demand judgment in how we relay a leader’s thoughts, feelings, and instructions. When we find ourselves in this facilitative role, these guidelines may help:

A leader’s message should not be diluted, but it is our responsibility to understand the context in which it was delivered and how this differs from the context in which it will be received.

Facilitation may require faithfully interpreting and relaying the essential communication while modifying the quality of the carrier wave so that it can be received as intended.

It is our responsibility to help others understand what the leader is communicating, and to detect and clarify false impressions that may block acceptance or implementation.

Literally relaying or thoughtlessly implementing all of a leader’s instructions is not true support, but an effective way of undoing a leader.