Could Your Leadership Communication Use a “Make-Over”?

The challenge for leaders is that they are frequently unaware of how their behavior negatively impacts their people's performance. Because of the continuing emphasis on results, many leaders really don’t focus on how they achieve results as long as they obtain the desired results.

During our leadership training, we often ask participants to identify past leadership behaviors they have experienced that have frustrated their efforts and negatively impacted their results. What starts out as an amusing exercise usually turns to quiet introspection as individuals consider how they treat their supporting cast. 

We realize that sometimes work simply becomes so hectic that leaders don’t stop to recognize and think about how they are managing their people. You might not be aware of the mistakes you are making, and perhaps you are not making conscious choices that would help others perform to the best of their abilities. Take a moment to ask yourself the questions below. Answer them honestly, and you may be able to identify some areas that need your attention. 


Do I provide clear directions for tasks I assign?

If people are constantly engaged in rework, then you might need to examine how specific your directions are. If you are unintentionally vague, then your directions may be misinterpreted by those who hear them. If the results you receive are not what you expected, you can probably track the cause back to a lack of clarity on your part. You can always ask, “What questions do you have about this assignment?” Be sure the directions you give are clear and specific.

Do I  micromanage?

Ask yourself: “Do I step in and take over projects I have asked others to do? Do I check and double check others’ work? Do I have time to meet my responsibilities, or am I so busy checking up on others that I don’t have time to get my own work done?” If you are unclear about the impact of your behavior, you might ask some people who will be candid with you for some feedback. If they answer in the affirmative, ask for specific examples of ways in which you micromanage others.

You might also try to identify whether you micromanage because your directions were unclear to begin with, or whether you have an underlying belief about a particular person that they are not capable of doing their job well. Discover how you manage.

Do I provide continual and timely feedback to people about their performance?

I really believe that people want to know when they are doing well, and they want to know what and when they need to change. If you provide specific feedback, you will open and strengthen existing channels of communication that are essential to great performance. Provide specific feedback often.

Do I ask questions to check my thinking or invite engagement?

If you do all of the talking when you give directions or assign a task, you will never learn whether you have been understood, and you will not be able to see things from the perspective of those who will do the work—people who might have insights that you cannot afford to ignore.

Asking questions is a great way to validate what you think or learn what you may not know. You might ask questions like these: “What questions do you still have? Is there something I need to consider? Can you summarize the priority of what I am asking you to do?” Ask questions to validate what you think you know and to learn what you may not know.

Do I give credit to the people who do the work?

When you provide recognition to people who do superior work and celebrate their successes, you reinforce the behaviors that create the results that you want. In a very real way, the people who work for you are an extension of you. When you recognize those people, you communicate to them and to everyone else that you value their contribution. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when you value others you also establish and build up your own value in your organization. 

Do I make myself available?

People want to know that they can get direction and feedback when challenges arise. When you are consistently available, people can get the answers they need to get things right the first time, which may prevent costly rework. Being able to get the information they need builds people's confidence in the contribution they make and in you as their leader. Be available.

When things don’t go as planned, do I become emotional or angry?

When we become emotional with people, two things happen: our rationality departs, and the people become defensive. Notice when you are becoming emotional and check the source of your emotions: most emotional reactions occur because we perceive that a value has been violated. If you can recognize the value that underlies your emotions, you can learn what is driving your emotional reactions. It is important to control your feelings rather than having your feelings control you. Identify the perceived violated value behind your own emotions.

Do my language and behavior communicate respect for others? 

Listen to the words you use and the tone of your language, and notice the gestures or behaviors you use when you speak or deliver a message. If any of your language or tone is harsh, belittling, or demeaning, eliminate that from your conversation tool kit right now. Disrespectful language and behavior do not inspire others to follow you—quite the opposite, in fact. Treating others in a demeaning way creates fear and diminishes the candor, sincerity, and honesty which are vital sources of information in any organization. Manage the delivery of your message; be respectful.

Am I supportive when things go wrong?

I once saw a senior leader take the side of a client against his own people—who had done exactly what he had told them to do. As important as it is to identify the cause of a problem or the source of a mistake, it is far more important to solve the problem or improve the process than it is to assign blame.  People will work hard and even go the extra mile (we call this "discretionary effort") when they know their leader is loyal to them and will back them up when push comes to shove. Support the people who work for you.

Do I provide opportunities for growth and development?

Wise leaders are always looking for people who can replace them someday. This requires that they teach and mentor others so they can acquire the skills that are necessary to advance or improve. Take the time to explore the aspirations and goals your people have, and then provide opportunities to help them grow and develop. This will increase their personal engagement and work satisfaction, and dramatically increase your rate of employee retention. It also insures the development of a more skilled workforce. Help others grow.


Sometimes the challenges of being a leader are so taxing that effective management practices suffer. But it is my belief that few leaders, if any, intentionally go out of their way to be disruptive or abusive. However, effectively managing others requires that a leader deliberately develop certain behaviors to achieve specific results. You may have noticed that all of the questions above focus on the way you communicate or interact with others. As you become more aware of your leadership behavior, you will increase your ability to effectively manage and lead. Deliberate steps you take to change your behavior or your habits will greatly improve your results—and the results of the people who work for you.