5 Ways Leaders Botch Communication – Without Saying a Word

Leadership CommunicationLeaders who focus only on what they say to employees—through speeches and written words—overlook one of the most powerful ways they communicate: their actions. Without saying a word they can hinder productivity and kill morale.

Check whether you are guilty of any of these five mistakes:

  1. Failing to communicate. When is the last time you had a conversation with an employee? How often do you talk with employees who are two rungs or more down on the organizational chart? Often leaders talk with everyone except their own team members. They give orders, but they don’t engage in dialogue.
  2. Blindsiding employees with change. Leaders wonder why it is so difficult to convince employees to adopt changes that an executive team has spent months debating and designing. The problem is that they have left out a key part of the plan: the employees who will be responsible for making the change. The frontline workers don’t understand why the change is necessary, and they see obstacles that the executives overlooked.
  3. Sending them on goose chases. Employees drop everything to work on a new, urgent priority, and then their work seems to disappear into a black hole. The leader never explains what happened, whether the idea has been dropped, revamped or rescheduled. The next time one of those assignments comes along, the employees think “No need to put much effort into this. It’s just the ‘Idea of the Day,’ and it will pass.”
  4. Ignoring what employees say. When an employee tells you about a problem, what happens? Many organizations proudly tout their 360-degree evaluation programs and open-door policies, but the employees learn that voicing concerns about a manager or another problem just pegs them as troublemakers. If leaders don’t listen—and act to address problems—employees stop speaking up.
  5. Failing to keep commitments. Do you deliver what you say you will to your team members, on time every time? Do you treat an appointment with an employee the same way you treat an appointment with an important customer, showing up on time and devoting your full attention to that employee? If you keep the employee waiting, reschedule multiple times and multitask while you are talking, those actions send a clear message to employees that they are unimportant.

To be a trusted, respected and effective leader, pay as much attention to what you aren’t saying as you do to your speeches and memos. Ask yourself: What are my actions telling my employees?

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  1. This was a great article. As I read through each point, I got flashbacks of personal experiences with a particular manager at a large corporation I worked for. I only ever worked at one large corporation, and it’s enough to turn me away from corporate culture. The funny thing is, these are things that people should know, just as people. You don’t need to be a manager to know that what you say and DON’T say show a lot about what you really think of the people you’re surrounded with–these are things that a decent human being should always take into consideration. I suppose as leaders in an organization, they should be even more aware of this. The trouble is, most of the time, they’re not.

    At EST, we value character-based leadership most of all, and believe it’s one of the pillars of a well-managed, productive, and engaged workforce. We have an article on why leadership ethics matter (http://www.employeesurveytoolkit.com/leadership-ethics-why-it-matters/) and our Leadership Survey (www.employeesurveytoolkit.com/leadership-survey/) definitely takes character into consideration.

    This was a great read, and I look forward to more!

  2. It’s amazing how little of what you communicate is communicated through the words you speak.

  3. More is caught than is taught! Great pointers!

  4. Angle Ami says:

    Its about Team and Leader and Bonding the team.

  5. Bidita Rahman says:

    Really informative

  6. Carol Dorr Melcher says:

    It truly is about establishing and nurturing relationships.

  7. This is great information. So few leaders really know much about leadership communication, especially how they communicate with their actions. Thanks for giving important pointers.

  8. While I agree with your points I think you miss out the basics. Communication is vital, but few leaders understand that keeping it simple and doing it well is the way to get the best out of people. Listening, body language, clarity, being inclusive and not exclusive in their style are all relevant, but probably the simplest of all is get out of your office, you can’t communicate from behind a desk. Walk and talk with your people. Once you get the basics right then move onto the more advanced stuff as highlighted by you.
    When I work with organisations I always speak to staff at the front line, it never ceases to amaze me how many of them have never met the top team, some don’t even know who they are!

  9. Hi Amy. Thanks for the great post. What is so common throughout all five mistakes is the leader’s ability, or lack of, to establish strong, trusting relationships with people no matter where they sit in the organization. It is so critical to a leader’s success to build and create trust, one relationship at a time.

    • Cynthia, I agree. Leaders can become so focused on building relationships outside of their organization or department that they ignore the people inside.

  10. Hi Amy Beth

    Some great advice for leaders and aspiring leaders everywhere – communication is the key to really great leadership!

    Have a brilliant week!


  11. Great tips, Amy! Thank you.


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