Photo Credit: Jason Rosewell,
Photo Credit: Jason Rosewell,

Communication Can Be A Leader’s Greatest Challenge

I recently spoke to the manager of a local retail store and asked what she liked and disliked about being in leadership. She said,

“Honestly, I love the sense of freedom it gives me in terms of choosing my team, the ability to train and mentor employees, and of course higher pay. But the most frustrating aspect of my job is the lack of support, clear direction, and effective feedback from senior management. It really makes it hard for me to do the best job that I can…”

The ability to communicate is probably one of the most important skills required of a leader. I can’t think of a single area of leadership where the ability to communicate isn’t critical. Yet so many leaders really lack the ability to do it well. Often messages are unclear, masked by emotion, or hidden behind some cliché message like, “Customers know best!”

Communication is Energy

When we interact with the world around us, we receive all kinds of communication. Communication comes in the form of visual stimulus, the written or spoken work, body language, and so much more. It’s such a complex system that it’s no wonder that so many struggle in its mastery.

Here’s the one thing that’s essential to understand about communication: communication is ENERGY. It’s driven by the speaker’s unique energetic signature and the messaging itself can have an energetic impact on the person/people receiving the message– therein lies the energy.

Think about about a time when you were called to an unexpected meeting and were told some pretty awful news. How did it make you feel? Was there anything that could’ve been done differently to make the bad news easier to understand and process, thus lessening its impact?

It’s natural that people interpret messages through their own life lens. And generally-speaking there’s no possible way to have everyone interpret your messages in the exact same way all the time. However, there are some messages that leaders communicate that have to be crystal clear. In the absence of precision and clarity, your business will suffer. John Hamm believes that there are five critical areas where effective communication’s required to stop your business from coming to a grinding halt.

  1. Organizational Structure: Good organizations have clearly-defined organizational structures with clearly-defined roles and expectations. This brings a sense of stability and lessens the political tangle that can happen when positions are restructured or roles aren’t clearly defined.
  2. Financial Results: The word “results” has to be used carefully as it’s often perceived as “results at any cost, or else…” This can be severely damaging to the workplace culture, the integrity of the company, and its overall values and mission. Again, it puts people in a fear-based work environment which can inhibit true productivity.
  3. Feedback to Other Leaders: There are two extremes that exist: one’s the “know it all” CEO who has the answers for everything, despite not regularly being on the front lines; or two, the absent CEO who you heard from when “it” hits the fan. Either extreme leads managers to feel undervalued, insecure, and confused regarding success, strategy, and next steps. Great communicators listen to their management team, make them part of the business process, and help them to develop answers for their specific needs.
  4. Time Management: It’s not my favorite word. It carries with it a sense of anxiety and focuses on lack of instead of abundance. The “to-do” list can be deadly to organizations because again it can be interpreted to mean, “get it done…at all costs” AND…getting things done just to check it off the list can also mean sacrificing the big picture goals for the little stuff.
  5. Corporate Culture: It’s essential for leaders to define their vision of success, hire people who reflect the values of that vision, and communicate expectations often and clearly. People want to work for companies that have a sense of stability, wellness, fairness, firm and explicit expectations, and where they can really contribute/share in the success of the company.

What Are The Communication Secrets of Great Leaders?

In my experience, I always received the best results when I was honest, authentic, and passionate about the message I was trying to communicate. The worst feedback I received is when I tried to communicate in writing (email/memo) or when I was trying to communicate an important message when there was insufficient time to deliver it. Myatt offers these tips for consideration from some of the great leaders the past:

  • Speak to your emotions and aspirations; it’s never about the messenger
  • Heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness
  • Fantastic listener
  • Astute in observations
  • Ability to read a person/group attitude, mood, dynamics
  • Ability to adapt their message on the fly based on their observations
  • Leader character and integrity is a must; people want to trust their leader and their message
  • Think dialogue and not monologue

Back To Energy

Going back to the conversation I had with the store manager, I’m left to wonder how improved communication from senior managers with her would change her outlook in her role as a leader. I also wonder what the impact might be on store productivity and sales.

In this case, the lack of communication was interpreted as a lack of support–or any kind of care for that matter. The energy behind the lack of communication is negative and leaves the manager feeling frustrated, confused, and uncertain. Given those circumstances, it must be more difficult to lead effectively. There’s something we can learn from how great leaders communicate. The energy they use comes from a deep desire to serve and be in relationship with others.