The 10 Communication Mistakes Leaders Can't Afford to Make

What does it mean to be a leader?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that leadership is not about title, rank or role. It’s a way of being, and there are many skills and competencies that are critical to being an impactful leader. And true, effective leadership is not possible without effective communication skills. In fact, I would argue that leadership is about communication. I cannot think of a single successful leader who is not also a master communicator. But sadly, I can think of plenty of ineffective leaders who have real challenges with communication.

Ultimately, you cannot expect to lead effectively if you do not possess strong and effective communication skills.

Looking Back on the Leaders in Your Life

Think about the leaders you have worked for throughout your career. My guess is that the leaders who have inspired you the most did so by communicating expertly. They expressed themselves clearly, listened actively, provided thoughtful feedback and were able to connect with you on a human level.

On the other side of the coin, I would wager that the worst leaders you’ve worked for were all ineffective communicators. They probably had difficulty conveying their ideas and instructions and were unable to motivate their teams. Maybe they failed to listen or give feedback. Or maybe they secluded themselves inside their offices, rarely making themselves available for discussion.

In your role as a leader, I am sure you look to those who have inspired you in the past with good communication habits while avoiding the failures that characterized the least effective leaders in your life. Nevertheless, it is important to step back and observe your own communication habits and practices. Even though you likely make every effort to communicate in a way that drives your organization forward successfully, you may have some blind spots.

Even the best leaders make mistakes in communication sometimes. What separates them from the rest is their drive to constantly improve and their determination to become aware of their mistakes so they can improve and grow.

Are You Communicating to the Best of Your Ability as a Leader?

Are you concerned that your communication skills might be lacking? Do you find that you struggle in interactions with people in your organization? Are you afraid that you might have some communication blind spots?

The first step to improving your leadership communication is becoming aware of the mistakes you may be making. The following communication mistakes, when not addressed, can sink leaders and harm organizations. But if you can recognize these mistakes in yourself, you can improve your communication ability considerably. Let’s take a look!

#1 – Speaking to People Instead of Communicating with Them

As a leader, you certainly need to give orders. However, you cannot treat every interaction as a one-way street. One of the quickest ways to alienate your team is to broadcast messages to them without capturing their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Remember – communication is a team sport. Ideally, there is a give and take that happens, which allows the interaction to produce results that would not occur if you simply commanded others to do your bidding.

#2 – Interrupting

This is a very common communication mistake for leaders. Sadly, many leaders are not even aware of this habit, which exacerbates the problem. Yes, you have wisdom, expertise and knowledge that can help others. And yes, you may know the point someone is trying to make before they actually have a chance to express it. But that doesn’t mean you have a right to interrupt the flow of communication. When leaders continually interrupt, they erode the confidence of their employees. This makes it unlikely for them to speak up, ask questions or contribute to the discussion.

#3 – Overusing Jargon and Lingo

Every industry has its own jargon and lingo and every organization has its own internal language. Unfortunately, when leaders overuse this type of language, it can alienate and intimidate the intended audience. Buzzwords and technical terms can be useful sometimes, but when you rely on them too frequently to get your point across, people stop hearing what you are really saying. Use language that is more purposeful, impactful and easy to understand.

#4 – Using Contradictory Body Language

Few things are as confusing and off-putting in conversation than the use of body language that contradicts the spoken message. Leaders are accustomed to using their bodies to project power and strength, but that’s not always appropriate. Be aware of how you are physically representing yourself. A few examples of body language that may come across as negative or defensive are crossing your arms, slouching or using little to no facial expression. Staring intently at someone can also be intimidating.  

#5 – Constant Complaining

Leaders who engage in constant complaining rarely inspire their people to do great things and can be exhausting to be surrounded by. Instead, they inspire their people to react to challenging situations with complaints and negative emotions. Complaining is just not a good look for anyone, let alone someone in a position of leadership who has direct accountability for others. Leadership is about looking at negative situations and offering solutions or recognizing opportunities. When we complain, it cuts off the likelihood of those lemons turning into lemonade and our personal brand is most likely to be damaged as a result.

#6 – Avoiding Difficult Conversations

Conflict is uncomfortable, but leaders should never avoid necessary conversations just because they may be difficult to have. Avoiding difficult conversations may provide temporary relief, but the issue never goes away. The ability to navigate challenging interactions is a hallmark of outstanding leadership. Those who have worked closely with me will hear me say that we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable – that is how we grow and develop.

#7 – Failing to “Read the Room”

Tone is a tricky thing. Nevertheless, leaders should be able to recognize the general mood when interacting with individuals, small groups or even auditoriums full of people. When leaders fail to “read the room” properly, they make mistakes of tone, which can create disastrous results. One of the quickest ways to bring morale down and sap the energy out of an organization is to be stern and dour during a happy, energetic scenario. On the flip side, making jokes and being too easygoing during a serious situation can also disengage employees. Leaders can influence the mood and tone of their respective organizations, and when we fail to read people and situations properly it can be disastrous.  

#8 – Dealing in Gossip

Leaders cannot stop the natural human tendency to engage in gossip. The example they set goes a long way toward ensuring that gossip doesn’t harm their organizations. Unfortunately, many leaders find gossip to be irresistible, going so far as to spread rumors and talk behind people’s backs themselves. And when leaders deal in gossip, it creates tacit permission for their people to do the same.

#9 – Avoiding Feedback

This is a big one, and it goes both ways: Leaders who fail to offer good, constructive feedback leave their people wondering if what they’re doing is helping or hurting the organization. This leaves employees feeling aimless and unsure of how to operate. And when leaders fail to ask for feedback from their people, it leaves employees feeling disengaged and voiceless. What may be worse is when leaders ask for feedback from their people, only to ignore it. If you are not willing to act on the feedback you receive, then asking for it can and will harm your reputation.

#10 – Failing to Listen

This might be the biggest communication mistake I’ve seen not only leaders make but individuals at large. So many communication failures could be avoided if leaders simply listened to what their people were saying. At the end of the day, your ability to communicate in a way that moves your organization in the right direction comes down to how well you can listen to the voices around you. Listening is also a gift; it shows that we value the person speaking and that we care. Ineffective listening creates disengagement, erodes trust and breaks down relationships. We all want to be heard, so start listening to others.

Are You Making These Communication Mistakes?

If you see yourself inside this list of communication mistakes, you should know that it doesn’t mean you are a failure. Rather, it means that you have the awareness to recognize areas where you can improve. This is a critical first step on the way to maximizing your leadership potential.

I’d love to know if this resonated with you. Have you been guilty of these communication mistakes? How have you improved your communication during your time as a leader? What are some of the other mistakes you’ve corrected on your way to becoming a better communicator?

Leave me a comment and let’s practice our communication skills together!

Be sure to check back in during the coming weeks to learn more about how you can improve your leadership communication.

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