All Articles Leadership Communication What "Shark Tank" teaches about the importance of communication skills

What “Shark Tank” teaches about the importance of communication skills

4 min read


In the season 5 premiere of of “Shark Tank” (the TV show with an average of 6 million viewers), two brothers, both aspiring entrepreneurs, made their pitch that was so pitifully bad it drove the shark Mark Cuban up to the stage to proclaim the proposal as “the worst pitch ever.”

Apparently, the brothers had no business plan, no sales, no marketing approach and no idea of when their proposal (a social network for medical professionals) would be profitable, if ever. According to Andrew Figgins, a Chicago-based entrepreneur and rabid “Shark Tank” fan, this is not unusual since nearly half of the pitches made on the show leave something to be desired.

If you’re like me (a management consultant, executive coach, speaker, author and a self-confessed “Shark Tank” junkie), you’re fascinated by the program’s seemingly limitless ideas brought to life by inspired businesspeople. And, you’re doubly fascinated by the number of contestants who fail to adequately prepare for their chance of a lifetime to receive investment money and mentoring from one or more of the sharks, all of them either multi-millionaire or billionaire entrepreneurs.

I can’t help but equate the failure of so many contestants on “Shark Tank” with the poor communication skills that businesspeople often exhibit. You have to wonder if some “Shark Tank” contestants have worked in organizations where its leaders are terrible at communicating. Where else would they pick up those poor habits?

Keeping people in the loop so they can perform their jobs efficiently is crucial. Effective leaders understand its importance and take whatever steps necessary to make it happen. Look at it this way: You can’t have effective leadership without effective communication.

When communicating, leaders must use different formats to get their message across: newsletters, e-mails, one-on-one or group meetings, and town halls. The most important goal is clarity. Often, leaders know what they want to communicate, but they fail to communicate clearly. When speaking, their tone of voice or inflections may have different meanings to people from diverse backgrounds and levels of experience. As such, it’s incumbent upon leaders to communicate in a way that’s clearly understood, without confusion, ambiguity or misinterpretation.

Poor communication is one reason so many initiatives fail. Leaders must think carefully about how they express themselves and develop a communication plan. How they communicate with people will vary, depending on the recipients and their positions in the organization, the parts of the initiative they want to share with them, and the timing of the communication.

Leaders and organizations can never take communication for granted. They need to think of it as a product. This requires them to take an occasional communication inventory. As an essential part of this inventory leaders need to examine all current channels, vehicles, systems, and networks to find out who communicates to whom. Then, analyze the communication system and make it as effective as they would any other system in the organization.

Let me put it these unequivocal terms: communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate — and then communicate even more! You must have open lines of communication up and down all levels of the organization. I believe in the KISS principle (Keep it short and sweet.) Simple things move through an organization faster, eliminate clutter, and reflect greater clarity. Those key elements are many times missing in the pitches Shark Tank contestants make.

Jeff Wolf is the author of “Seven Disciplines of a Leader” and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness. WMC partners with clients to deliver customized solutions that resolve their most significant issues and create a lasting competitive advantage.

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