Do you know someone who communicates perfectly all the time?
Me, neither. And, for a ton of reasons.
We’ve all had seasons where it felt like we actually won the “Nobel Prize for Stellar
Communication Skills.” Right? When that award-granting group literally came to your
office and handed you the really heavy, beautiful trophy with your name engraved on it.
Then, ‘it’ happened...
During that moment, you weren’t exactly sure how things went wrong. You don’t know
when the needle moved off-center, derailing your strategies for effectively reaching
We’ve all been there. Those moments can be tender to walk through.
A few years back, I was the Provost at a university. New, fresh on the scene of senior
cabinet-level leadership. A focused, self-motivated, strategy-loving, change agent; this
new-kid on the block realized she needed to communicate well so the entire team
could be successful. Long story short, my zealousness to communicate well led me to
over-communicate. In volume and in timing.
Meetings consumed my days. Evenings were spent at events cheering on our student-
athletes, performers and budding scientists, painters, writers, dreamers, doers, and
adventurers. It was all grande. Yet, my work still needed to be done.
Nights were my time to work - to sift through notes, records, databases, accreditation
reports, budgets, state filings and legal matters. I would send my responses out as
soon as I completed them each night. And, as an early morning riser, I would finish a
few more things before sunrise and eagerly send those responses off, as well. Typically,
before I worked out, got ready and headed to campus.
I didn’t fully understand what was bubbling below the surface, though. Then, ‘it’
happened. ‘It’ was definitely awkward.
It’s not fun to admit. However, I unintentionally contributed to a work culture that had a
never-ending pace. It was an environment where an unattainable expectation became
normalized - everyone worked all day every day. Simply because my communications
(and a few other senior leaders) were sent out at all hours of the day and night. Every
Guess what? The pace was relentless, people were exhausted, and the quality of work
started to plummet.
Here’s a jolt of a reminder. Teams and organizations always mirror what we, as leaders,
do. We set the cultural tone with our own behaviors.
Think about that. Let it sit for a while. You know I knew this from being involved in
leadership and elite sports for so many years. I knew this.
Yet, I still got to experience an incredible take-away - In order to lead well you MUST
communicate effectively. In volume and in timing.
So, how do you do that? Having studied many leaders across many industries, here’s
what I have found to be helpful in pulling yourself (and your team) out of a spiraling
culture of unmet promises and expectations.
7 Ways to Communicate Effectively
1. Share expectations and boundaries about communicating information - Who is the
lead for messaging? Who do they send the messages to and when? How often and
how many messages need to be sent to convey the content? Who do recipients
respond to and why? What is acceptable language and tone for forthcoming
2. Have a purpose for communicating - Why are you communicating this? How can it
be best delivered - in-person, written, or by voice (phone, tele-conference, Zoom,
3. Be transparent - Use the ‘5 W’s & H’ to guide your message: Who, What, When,
Where, Why, and How. Think through all of these before you ever deliver your
message. This will help you maintain a consistent and clear platform. Always lead
boldly with honesty and candor.
4. Double-check your accuracy and have clarity in your message - Be accurate, be
concise, and be respectful of the recipients; less is more. Learn how to articulate
your intentions as succinctly as possible without compromising on accuracy.
5. Be aware of the timing of your communications - You create the culture and chart
the course. If you are firing off emails and texts all the time, your team will naturally
think that they should be doing the same. (If matters lend you to email a group at
3:30 pm on Sunday, set the tone in your opening sentence declaring awareness that
this is not being sent during normal work hours. Let them know you are cognizant
of your own boundaries, or lack thereof.) Time is our greatest resource, yet
ironically it's the one thing we typically don’t seem to have enough of.
6. Set realistic timeframes and let people know the agreed upon deliverables - When
you communicate, include completion dates and action steps.
7. Know your recipients - Be personable. Show your compassion and regard for the
people you are sharing with. Being empathetic and vulnerable will allow your team
to see that you really are human. They’ll respect you more when you open up. In
order to truly know them, they deserve to know you.
One of my favorite phrases is a paraphrased quote that many people have used
through the years. The version I love is “become the leader you always wanted.” Many
gifts and skills go into becoming a great leader. Without question, one of the most
important things that will transform your leadership is communicating effectively.
Become great at this; for you and your team.