10 rules of communication for leaders
I find managing a business really difficult. Seldom a week goes by that I don’t think I could have done something better. And of course as a leader, communicating the vision, communicating change, communicating expectations – these are subtle skills, which I don’t think any of us truly master.
However, developing these skills is fundamental to our success. Particularly now, where so many employees have so much choice, engaging people with the company’s goals is, in my view, perhaps the leader’s primary role.
You will never be accused of over-communicating.
No one is going to resign because you share too much information; be disaffected because you tell them what they are doing well, and how they can get even better. It’s better to err on the side of sharing the vision and the values too often, than too little. I am forever getting surprised when people tell me they have “never heard that before”, when in my mind it’s been said a thousand times.
Nothing scientific here. I’ve just included 10 golden rules I have learned over many years of trial and error.
- Communicate early and often. Don’t wait till people start to make things up because of a lack of information. Don’t communicate only once and think people will “get it”. They almost certainly won’t. Repeat the message in different ways and at different times.
- Tell them everything or tell them nothing. I have learned that telling people half the story is dangerous. They will invent the missing information. If you are not ready to tell the full story, rather say nothing. Of course in most situations it is better to tell it all, early.
- Empathise before you communicate. “I understand that cutting the marketing budget is going to make it harder for you to achieve your personal goals in some respects, but it’s not working so we want to spend the money smarter.”
- Deliver on commitments that you communicate or do not make those commitments. This is likely to be your most costly mistake. Communicating change or promises that you don’t follow-up on. We all get enthusiastic and we want to share positive news, but it is best to remain silent unless you know you can follow through. Not delivering kills credibility as a leader and does irreparable damage to the trust.
- Use informal and formal channels. Sure, share company news via emails and newsletters, but also take the time to sit at the desk of a key person, or over drinks, or on the way back from a client visit. This is where you will get the questions and be able to really cut through any confusion.
- Celebrate wins and tell success stories. Small and frequent. Success builds belief. People want to work with winners and love to hear positive war stories. They are happening every day. Communicate them!
- Share confidential information regularly. You have to make this call, but I believe it builds trust and buy-in. Mostly I find people will be mature and will value being brought into the inner circle.
- Where possible speak, don’t email. It’s a thousand times better and more effective. You can always follow up with an email if you just can’t stand not sending one.
- Plan and prepare for delivering tricky news. If you have something distasteful to communicate, for example your company is going to have to close a branch office, predict the questions you are likely to get or people are likely to think. Prepare honest, carefully crafted answers. Be careful of the language you use. For example “we have decided not to replace the account manager because we see the market plateauing for a while and we think the people we have now are fully capable of servicing our current client workload”. That’s a lot better than “We are not replacing her because the market is so bad and will probably tank even further soon, so we think it is dangerous to hire someone else because none of you will have enough to do”.
- Tell the right people the right things. This is key. Don’t have ‘communications favourites’ where you share news first with a selected few. It creates distrust and lack of loyalty. And never talk to one employee about the mistakes or weaknesses of another.