Leadership communications, lesson 2: Common problems with how leaders communicate

In Lesson 1 of this series, I wrote about six reasons why small business owners should master leadership communication. Today I want to talk about four reasons leadership communication often fails. It isn’t enough to know why you should communicate with your employees; you also need to know how to get it done. Here are four roadblocks that can get in your way:

1. Not setting a communication agenda. Before you communicate with employees, you have to thoroughly think through your key messages. Off the cuff is fine for most day-to-day interactions, but if you’re announcing important news, asking people to join you in making changes, or communicating any other type of information that you want people to act on, you need to first consider the key points you want to make. This is true whether you’re going to be speaking to your entire team or to just one person whose behavior you want to change.

Ask yourself these questions each time you have something important to impart to your staff: What are the three things I want people to remember? What additional information do people need to have in order to fully understand the importance of what I’m communicating? Also consider what questions they’re likely to ask so you can have answers ready. And remember, it is impossible to over-communicate your vision, mission and values.

2. Conducting communication that is event driven, happenstance and/or superficial. If you only communicate when crises occur, you’re not really communicating; you’re just reacting. People want to feel like they’re in the loop and they don’t like to find out about important developments in the business from outsiders, like customers or vendors. You need to communicate regularly and this requires having a communications plan. This may involve a regular event, like getting together for bagels each Friday or having a brown bag lunch once a month. You may want to do a periodic enewsletter. Whatever you decide on, the goal is to have routinely scheduled opportunities to communicate with your employees about the issues that are important to keep your business a success track.

3. Communicating in a vacuum without input from interested stakeholders. We’ve all heard the saying that we’re born with one mouth and two ears so we can listen more than we talk. If your communications with employees consists of you getting up and making a speech and then turning around and walking back to your office, you’re not really communicating. Every important interaction should allow your staff to ask questions and get real answers.

Also, you may want to test your messaging first on one of a trusted employee to get his/her impression of how what you’re about to say will go over with the rest of the team. This person can help you decide if your message need more fine-tuning or whether there are gaps in the information you’re sharing that should be filled in before going public with it.

4. Failing to communicate passionately. This one is hard for some people since some of us just naturally have a low key way of speaking. But if you’re trying to convince people, for instance, that serious change is needed to get your small business back on track, a dispassionate approach will probably not cut it. You don’t have to jump and shout, but you do need to let your passion show through. I know you feel passionate about your business; let your employees see that so they can share that passion. Together, you can make great things happen!

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