Leadership communication is one of the most important parts of an effective organisation. I’ve found that communication issues are one of the most common sources of frustration found in the work environment.
As with many parts of leadership, you’ll never get it perfect, because there is no “one-size fits all” approach that will work for everyone.
Every team is unique, and people may have different preferences for communication. This can make leadership communication all the more complex, because communicating in just one way won’t necessarily work for everybody.
In this post, I’m going to look at some simple leadership communication principles that will hopefully help you to create a better environment for your team, and for yourself!
What Happens When Leadership Communication Goes Wrong?
It’s common for poor leadership communication to appear in our workplaces.
After all, businesses are complex and there are many moving parts. Different priorities, projects and opinions are everywhere, so it’s hard to get it just right.
However, even if we don’t get it perfect, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to improve. We can always do better than we did yesterday!
Poor leadership communication often results in:
- Misunderstandings. People aren’t on the same page. They have different expectations about what should happen, how or when things should be done.
- Rework. Rework occurs when people aren’t communicating effectively. Work needs to be redone because the original messaging wasn’t clear, or was never received.
- Conflict. Even bad tidings can be communicated effectively if you try. Sure, nobody will enjoy hearing your message. But blunt, careless communication will often cause big issues as people object to your message.
- Damaged Motivation. Poor leadership communication also happens when we fail to communicate at all. When people don’t feel appreciated, recognised or kept informed, they feel less valued as part of a team.
These are just a few examples, and I’m sure you can identify many more based on your own experience!
Now, let’s look at some simple leadership communication principles that will help you to avoid some of these problems.
Leadership Communication Principle #1: Forget the “Golden Rule”
For starters, let’s forget about the Golden rule, which is:
“Treat people how you would like to be treated.”
When it comes to leadership communication, that won’t work. Just because you might prefer short, direct communication, does not mean everybody else wants it the same way.
Instead, we should make an effort to communicate in a way that will suit others. The trick here is that you need to understand what your stakeholders want.
I find the PRINT Motivational Assessment is helpful for this, but a simple conversation can work well too.
It’s worth understanding how your boss, close colleagues and your team like to communicate. Once you understand their preferences, you can try to provide what they need.
#2: Think, Before You Communicate
One of the hallmarks of thoughtful leadership is being intentional about what you do. That means stopping to think, before you do things.
In my experience, many problems in organisations happen from “accidental leadership”.
This is the name I give to situations where a leader puts little thought into what they’re doing. Instead, they blunder into problems and conflict.
Before you communicate, take some time to plan. This doesn’t need to be a 50 page document – it could simply be a list of bullet points.
Questions to Consider Before You Communicate
To help you, here are some simple questions to consider when you’re planning your leadership communication:
- What is the core message I want to get across?
- Why is this message important? Why do they need to know?
- Who should I be communicating with? Who needs to know, or might be interested?
- What level of input do these people need? Am I telling, or are they contributing?
- What medium should I use to communicate? This might be face to face, one on one, in a group, by email, text, in a phone or video call. The medium may change depending on how private or important the information is.
Answering these questions is not difficult, but it’s a helpful list to get started.
Learn More: 5 Communication Skills Every Leader Needs.
Leadership Communication Principle #3: Look For Gaps
It’s often obvious when we need to communicate. What is sometimes less obvious is when we could be communicating, but aren’t.
For example, we may fail to recognise someone’s contribution on a recent project. This happens because leaders are busy, and we sometimes forget.
Nobody urgently needs to know about the contribution of that team member.
But when you do recognise it, you may see a huge improvement in motivation. Conversely, when you don’t, you might see a massive hit in morale.
Take some time to think about what you could be communicating, but might not be. Some examples include:
- Events happening in the workplace that people may be interested in
- Opportunities to recognise people for their contribution; or
- Progress updates for work going on in and around the team.
Leadership communication isn’t just about urgent information that people need to know. Sometimes, it’s about helping people feel more involved and informed.
Learn More: Open Communication: 6 Powerful Ways to Create It.
#4: Own Your Communication Mistakes
Sometimes leaders get caught up in their own hype.
“I can communicate however I like … I’m the boss.”
That’s true, you can. That doesn’t mean anyone needs to like it, or even stick around in your team.
Instead, I’ve always found it helpful to own my communication mistakes.
This means acknowledging situations where I forgot to inform somebody. Or perhaps I communicated in a way that upset people.
Whatever it is, owning up to these issues can be a great way to build trust in a team. Instead of putting on a “holier than thou” show, you’re acknowledging your shortcomings and trying to do better next time.
Leadership Communication Principle #5: Don’t Walk On Eggshells
It can be daunting trying to communicate effectively.
What if I get it wrong?
Am I communicating with people in a way they don’t like?
What if I miss something?
The reality is, you’ll never be able to cater for every preference of the people around you. Nor should you try, because that would take forever, and you’ve got your own work to do, too.
Remember – the more you try to please everyone, the more power you give away. There needs to be a balance in our leadership where we set clear boundaries.
It’s important to try to communicate in a way that suits others, but it’s best not to overthink it. We do our best, and if it doesn’t work, we put our hand up and try to do better next time.
People are flexible, resourceful and resilient. Even if your leadership communication doesn’t quite hit the mark every time, people will usually get it.
As long as people can see you’re trying to communicate effectively and improve, you’ll win the hearts and minds over time.
Learn More: Setting Boundaries at Work: Why It’s Crucial.
Leadership communication isn’t easy, but with some thought and intention, you’ll be an effective communicator.
Leadership communication is a craft learned over time, and you’ll become better as you gain experience. And when people see you trying to communicate effectively, you’ll earn respect and build trust.
What are some other leadership communication principles you follow? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!