The essence of leadership is communication: to cast a vision, to inspire, to collaborate on strategy, and to engage followers in accomplishing a mission. But let’s face it: Many leaders fall flat on their face when it comes to communication.
The only thing that keeps the organization afloat and followers on target are those second-in-command people “picking up the slack” and translating for those leaders who struggle as communicators.
Yet oddly enough, many of those struggling communicators do not self-identify. The following checklist can help you spot danger signs before disaster becomes routine.
Great communicators say what they mean and mean what they say. They never fear that others will find a mismatch between words and action. But lesser leaders leave others guessing about the gaps between values they communicated in an all-hands meeting, for example, and what they’re planning to do at an executive retreat. They find themselves struggling to remember what they told Maddy to make sure it “syncs” with how they told Gary to handle a similar matter.
Leaders who are not genuine, straightforward, and honest in their communication fear to be transparent in their communication. They fear that others will see gaping holes and “catch them” in inconsistencies. As much as possible, these leaders stay behind their proverbial closed doors.
Refusal to Admit Mistakes
Delay in reporting problems only compounds them. Leaders know this. That’s why they expect their employees to warn them immediately when unexpected problems surface—preferably with solutions or at least recommendations to resolve the problem.
Leaders expect their employees to own a problem, a task, a project—to take responsibility and see it through to completion.
That’s why it’s devastating to their own credibility and team morale when leaders themselves refuse to clearly communicate “I made a mistake.” “I misjudged the situation.” “I did not react appropriately.” “What happened was my error in that I should have considered X.”
The One-Size-Fits-All Perspective
Struggling communicators plan their messages (presentations, emails, speeches, announcements) with a one-size-fits-all mentality: to “the team members,” “staffers,” the “company.” That is, struggling leaders think of the universality of what they want to communicate; as a result, their comments become vague and general.
Great leaders, on the other hand, consider individuals as they communicate. Why will Jennifer, Larry, Louis, and Pradeep care about this? How does it apply to how this specific person does their job? Rather than diluted abstraction, that individual perspective makes their message focused, clear, practical, and tangible to everyone.
Your Own Hero Stories
Struggling leaders typically tell a lot of this-is-how-I-did-it war stories. Stronger communicators more often tell this-is-how-they-did-it” hero stories that showcase another employee’s success on the job.
Dour Demeanor That Demands and Demoralizes
Struggling leaders appear to be in pain as they communicate. Their demeanor forbids people to ask questions, to challenge them, to point out potential problems, to offer helpful feedback, to make innovative suggestions, to provide useful information. Their eyes are stern, their voice is gruff, their jaw is stony, their dress is severe.
By contrast, great communicators know that their body language and behavior often trumps their words. Rather than a gloom-and-doom delivery, their facial expression and gestures are inviting, friendly, energetic, encouraging, affirming, and upbeat.
No one masters communication completely. Look no further than to the presidential candidates and other world leaders to understand that truth. But when leaders identify and work to overcome their own communication weaknesses, the entire organization grows and benefits.