Leadership Communication

The 6 Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Leadership Communication

Written By Sarah Hodges

The Most Common Leadership Complaints

As an Executive Coach, one of the most frustrating and recurring issues my clients face is employee underperformance.

     – “Their job is simple.  I don’t know why they can’t just do it,” a leader told me during a recent coaching session.

     – “They should be able to complete this task. It’s just not that hard!” said another manager.

     – “They keep asking me the same questions over and over again!” complained a senior partner.

These statements all have one thing in common: They place the blame and focus on the employee ‘problem’ instead of taking personal responsibility to change outcomes.  

What’s Going Wrong

In truth, my clients are usually trying very hard to make improvements.  That’s why they hired a coach in the first place! But, their leadership communication style is more like a middle school teacher: authoritative, instructive, and punitive.  No wonder their employees aren’t autonomous or motivated!

So, I’ve compiled the following six “Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Leadership Communication.” These guidelines greatly benefit my clients to increase employee motivation, morale, and adherence to workflows.

Do’s and Don’ts for Successful Leadership Communication

#1. DO use empathy.

Many leaders still want to take the emotion out of business.  They want their companies to run like a well-oiled machine. But, humans are not robots.  Human beings have complicated feelings, doubts, preferences, and values that need to be understood and acknowledged by their leaders.

The Solution: Executives who lead with empathy create an emotionally safe environment, which helps their employees thrive.  Empathy encourages creativity, fosters loyalty, and stimulates motivation. Empathy sounds like, “I imagine you feel a little overwhelmed by this deadline.  Let’s talk about what you need in order to be successful.”   

#2. DON’T expect perfection.

Just because a job appears easy to you doesn’t mean that it’s easy for your employees. Sometimes they will screw up, fall short of expectations, or misunderstand the objective. But if you become punishing and punitive when something goes wrong, they will start to fear making small mistakes.  They might even hide those mistakes from you, and that’s the last thing you want.

The Solution: Instead of expecting perfection, encourage trial and error.  Encourage creativity and ingenuity by letting your employees know that it’s ok to make mistakes sometimes.  Say things like, “Could I have your opinion on how we could we improve this process?”

#3. DO be clear.

Most of my leadership clients think they’re being crystal clear about employee expectations, but they forget that clarity is not about the delivery of information. Clarity is about ensuring that the information has been received and understood.  Therefore, it’s better to make discussions collaborative.

The Solution: Instead of authoritatively dictating tasks, invite your team to participate in a discussion about what a successful outcome looks like.  Start with “why” the objective is important. Ask them what a realistic deadline is for this project. Ask them what resources they need. Go into such detail that everyone in the room has the same image in their mind of success.

#4. DON’T be passive aggressive.

Passive aggression is an easy fall-back when leaders feel angry and frustrated with employee outcomes.  One common example I hear is, “I just did it myself to show them it could be done.” Some managers make off-handed critical comments to employees out of frustration.  Others will even give their employees the silent treatment or show obvious favoritism to ‘get their point across.’ None of these passive aggressive approaches do anything to improve the situation.  They just perpetuate the problem, drive a wedge between team members and management, and create a toxic work environment.

The Solution: Privately acknowledge your own feelings of frustration.  Then broaden your perspective and check your biases by considering what the employee does well.  After you become centered, invite the employee in for a meeting, and use empathy. Ask the employee what they believe they could do better.  Discuss what success looks like for both of you. Ask what resources or support they need to be successful. Focus on the future.

#5. DO use gratitude.

Gratitude is an incredibly easy way to help employees feel appreciated.  It motivates teams to work harder when they know their efforts are recognized and important to the company. However, gratitude is the most common communication element that leaders forget.

The Solution: Remember that gratitude isn’t something you reserve for a successful end-result.  Gratitude can be used throughout an entire project from beginning to end. Thank your employees at the first meeting for being open and receptive to changes. Affirm them throughout the project for working hard. Even after a ‘trial and error’ failure, thank them for taking a risk to benefit the company. And make sure to show your thanks in different ways.  Say it, write it, gift it, or even work alongside them on menial tasks once in awhile. All of these methods will encourage and motivate your team and foster loyalty.

#6. DON’T stay in your comfort zone.

Some leaders protest having to ‘cater to the emotions’ of their employees.  They find it time-consuming and feel it’s unnecessary. People “should just do the job they’re paid to do.” These leaders don’t realize that what they’re actually saying is, “People should just do their job so I don’t have to spend time leading them.”  They fail to understand that with these few simple adjustments in leadership style, their employees will be more independent, focused, and motivated, which will improve outcomes and ultimately require LESS day to day management.

The Solution: Have the courage to change your pattern.  Get out of your comfort zone. Find the human, creator, and innovator in each of your employees.  Use empathy, clarity, and gratitude in every interaction. You will suddenly find yourself with a team of autonomous, creative, focused, and motivated employees!

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