The Biggest Communication Mistake Leaders Make

When I coach leaders, one of the common questions they ask me is “How can I move my career forward and get more influence? How can I make a bigger impact?”

Those things are often subjective, but typically you grow your leadership and gain more influence by rising up through the organization.

And typically you rise up at the intersection point of three concepts:

  • Great at executing your current job

  • Close relationships with the power core, a.k.a. your direct leader, sponsors & mentors

  • Being seen as ‘having it,' i.e. leadership potential

The first bullet you can control: be good at your job. The second bullet you can mostly control: know the interests and scope of work for current executives, and get in the right conversations. It’s the third bullet most people have trouble with. It’s the issue of exuding leadership ‘presence.'

In my book, LEAD ADVANCED, I noted there are 5 key elements to ‘having presence' — substance, relational authenticity, style, situational agility, and #communication. To me, effective communication means clearly getting your point across at the right time, in the right way, to the right people. And here's the biggest communication mistake leaders make … they don't provide:

  1. Clarity

  2. Directness

  3. Simplicity

If you’ve worked in an office, you know this can often be pretty rare. Communication is usually somewhat of a train wreck. (I’d bet it’s one of the biggest complaints on most employee surveys. And I can tell you this is an area I work on extensively when coaching leaders.)

Clarity dies with unclear priority. Directness dies with medium, i.e. email. Simplicity dies with an over-complicated process.

Many leaders don’t slow down and determine the outcome they are seeking from their communication. That often means they aren’t clear about the message they need to articulate and the best delivery method (phone, in-person, social media) required to generate awareness, adoption, or action from their intended audience. Lack of sophistication and mindfulness with this communication process impacts the ‘presence' you can have.

The other tier of this problem: effective communication is largely about listening and many leaders aren’t great at that either.

Listening requires being present, paying attention to what’s not being said as much as what words are spoken, and asking questions to draw information out of others. This way you can fully understand what motivates people and show that you care about what’s important to them. There’s plenty of research that shows that people with the best presence make everyone else around them feel great. Lack of listening skills will hurt your ‘presence' and limit your career arc.

OK, so now we know the problems. And… ?

Let’s try an exercise this week.

If you have x-amount of direct reports, I want you to schedule 15-20 minutes with each of them individually across the next two weeks. When they come in, practice the three bullet points above: clarity, directness, and simplicity. And, in fact, don’t ask them about deliverables or deadlines or KPIs. Open with this question:

“What could I do to make your life easier right now?”

They may be a little bit taken aback, but when they start answering, I want you to listen. Take notes. And then legitimately act on it after the meeting. Help them in the way they want to be helped.

Another question to ask:

“What process is giving you issues or confusion, and how could we simplify it?”

At a leadership level, we sometimes view process as sacrosanct. It needs to be there, and in a specific way, for the trains to run. But at the daily grind level, we sometimes don’t see how outdated or irrelevant a specific process has become. If we listen to those who work with us, we can solve a lot of these headaches.

So that’s it. A quick meeting, two simple questions, active listening, and follow-through. You’ll be amazed at the results. And your ‘presence' will go through the roof.

Companies that have licensed Lisa’s LEAD ADVANCED program have seen great results when it comes to developing leaders who exude presence. Perhaps this is the next step for you?