Five Leadership Excuses For Communication Improvement

If communication were easy, everyone would be good at it. The fact is, they aren’t. Companies are rife with miscommunication, and leaders rarely see themselves as the problem. A company’s tone is set at the top, yet many executives believe they do not need to improve their communication skills to be better leaders or run a more effective organization. Rarely do leaders recognize the difference in basic communication versus communication that inspires others to willingly act.

In an Interact/Harris Poll (registration required), 91% of employees stated that communication issues drag executives down. Employees see the result of ineffective communication, yet many executives refuse to admit they fall into this category. I’ve had the privilege to work with many C-suite and executive-level professionals. They always have an excuse for their lack of commitment to improving their communication skills.

Here are the top five excuses I often hear:

Excuse No. 1: “I’ve been communicating my entire life. It comes naturally.”

Most people believe that because they have communicated since birth, they are somehow good at it. Communicating is different than communicating with impact and influence. Delegating direction, shooting off emails or interjecting in countless meetings is not considered communicating.

Learning to communicate clearly and concisely is key. Earning respect, credibility and trust that’s worthy of influence only comes when leaders communicate consistently every day, in every interaction, Monday to Monday. When leaders become effective in their communication skills — both speaking and listening — they don’t require countless meetings to gain an understanding of a subject. They don’t need continual follow-up to clarify what they said in previous interactions. Communicating comes naturally. Communicating effectively requires continual practice and focus.

Excuse No. 2: “I don’t want anyone in my organization to know I’m being coached. The appearance of vulnerability could jeopardize my influence.”

Many executives believe they must keep self-improvement a secret, as if their employees will somehow have a different opinion of them if they find out. In fact, the opposite is true. When leaders are willing to own their personal development, employees will begin their own self-evaluation. As they see leaders placing priority on improved communication, they will begin to do the same.

In return, employees will place a higher value on communicating effectively, with clarity and brevity. Employees never believe their leadership is perfect. So why pretend? If leaders want to earn credibility and be more influential, they must show their weaknesses and a desire to improve.

Excuse No. 3: “My communication skills are why I’m successful and have achieved the rank and title I have now.”

Perhaps they are right, and their communication skills are the reason they’ve gotten this far professionally. Another reason may be that they are experts in their field and they earned their current title and rank through that expertise. Either way, their limited communication skills eventually hinder their progress. Many companies wish to promote leaders — from vice president to president, president to C-level or C-level to the board of directors — but ultimately hold off until they improve their communication skills. Being good at the job isn’t enough because each time leaders are promoted, their level of influence increases in business decisions, company culture and morale. Effective leadership is a direct result of effective communication, and the higher the title or rank, the greater the expectation for effective, influential communication.

Excuse No. 4: “Coaches aren’t necessary for someone in my position. I do believe, however, my organization could benefit from coaching.”

How successful do you think Michael Jordan would have been in his basketball career if he had used this same excuse? How many titles would the Chicago Bulls have won if their most influential player bowed out of the coaching necessary for the team to effectively work together?

Communication coaching is no different for an executive leader than it is for professional athletes preparing for a championship game. Coaching is necessary if you want your team to improve and for your organization to succeed.

Leaders often fail to recognize that an organization’s inability to communicate stems directly from their own lack of skills. No matter how much talent, expertise, knowledge or ability the leader has, they will fail to win if they don’t seek feedback and continual improvement.

Excuse No. 5: “It’s hard to find the time in my already-busy schedule to practice the skills you’re requiring.”

Improving communication skills isn’t something that requires time to be set aside for practice. What is required is making a concerted effort to understand where improvement is necessary. Once leaders seek feedback and pinpoint where they need to improve, they can immediately implement the skills in every interaction, whether it’s a high-stakes sales meeting or a casual hallway conversation.

In a survey of employees (registration required), 57% said their executive lacks the ability to communicate clearly. A breakdown in communication often means a serious lack of clear-cut direction for employees, which results in lost productivity. Imagine the amount of time leaders could save by effectively communicating. Those I’ve coached confess to no longer needing meetings to clarify priorities, goals and messages. They see their emails decrease as their digital messages become more clear and concise. Better still, they see an improvement in their organization’s productivity as employees work with clarity and purpose.

If you wish employees would communicate more clearly, then demonstrate clarity in yours. If you desire more employee productivity, make every interaction count. If you want employees to listen to your message, be an intentional listener.

Organizations do exactly what leadership does, placing the same value on communication skills as those they work for. The only way any of this is accomplished is to stop the excuses and start identifying improvements needed to master your communication skills.


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