Posted by: Providence Chamber of Commerce | April 18, 2012

7 Deadly Sins of Leadership Communication

By Linda Hurley, as published on

Organizational communication can involve convoluted and elaborate protocols. It is always a challenge for leaders to find the best ways to get their message to employees and to access employees’ ideas and feedback.

Making mistakes in individual communications or the channels that are used can create fear and disillusionment and ultimately negatively impact productivity. This happens and can be managed but there are seven deadly sins of organizational leadership communication that should be avoided.

1. Invisibility

Organizational leaders need to be visible. A figurehead is just that, an inanimate object that cannot engender loyalty or inspire motivation. If all you are is the name at the top of an organizational chart no one will care what you say or what you think.

If you want people to follow you, you have to let them see the person behind the position. This means getting out from behind the desk in the large corner office and interacting with staff at all levels including those located remotely.

2. Need to know

Sometimes information is commercially sensitive and needs to be protected however often the “need to know” principle is used as a default. Restricting the dissemination of information limits the ability of staff to progress objectives and solve problems.

Targeting communication to the audience is important, but targeting is not equivalent to restricting. If staff believe they are being excluded from information channels without good reason they will cease to care and you will lose the benefit of their intellectual capacity being applied to further business growth and performance.

3. Cascading important messages

Key messages need to be direct. Cascading important messages through the organizational hierarchy dilutes the message. Each person who receives the message will apply their personal frame of reference to the communication and decide what the message means to them.

Their interpretation will be passed on to the next level of organization who will then apply their own frame of reference until the final recipient receives a communication that may have little or no similarity to the original message.

Using intermediaries to pass on communications also runs the risk of any of those intermediaries deciding the message does not need to be cascaded any further and as a result the communication fails to reach its final destination.

4. One way communication

Leadership communication is not only about passing on information or directives. Understanding what is happening within the organization is essential to business success. A sole owner of a small business may be able to keep in touch with everything happening day to day but larger businesses require communication channels to feed information from the front line back to the leadership.

5. Selling the message

The amount of information that people need to deal with daily can become overwhelming. Being part of the organization’s leadership will usually mean that your communications are given at least cursory attention but it will not ensure the entire message is received.

People are motivated by self-interest. If you do not include “what’s in it for me” in your communications they will soon be consigned to the recycle bin as generally irrelevant. Identifying the impact on individuals also minimizes the risk of misunderstanding creating disruption to productivity as individuals try to determine what the message means specifically for them.

6. Using a single channel

There are many ways to communicate and using the one you are most comfortable with all the time will mean some people never get the message. An all staff email will not reach some staff on the front line. Delivery drivers for example may not have access to email.

Using an intranet bulletin board will only reach those who have time to search and read. Even road trips to interact with staff face to face will miss some people who are not on site at the particular time or day.

Staff who have to learn about communication from the leadership of an organization through informal channels assume they are considered unimportant. Many of these staff are the face of the company for customers and can have an impact on the company’s reputation.

To ensure you have great ambassadors on the front line you need to think creatively about the best methods to communicate with staff and use multiple communication channels to convey messages and receive feedback.

7. Ignoring informal channels

Information flows most quickly through the informal channels in a business. The water cooler, the tea room and other places staff meet informally are the place to find out what is really happening in the business on a day-to-day basis.

Ignoring these channels of communication because they are impossible to control is risky at best. Organizational leaders need to find ways to tap into the wealth of information and knowledge these informal networks contain and use them to increase the likelihood that leadership communications are heard and understood.

The larger a business becomes the more difficult it is to keep the entire workforce focused on the vision and goals of the organization. It is essential to establish and maintain open communication channels that foster two way interactions between organizational leaders and business staff. Avoiding the seven deadly sins of organizational leadership is a great place to start.

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