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April 26, 2021

6 Leadership Communication Principles That Work


I’m often asked for the most important leadership communication principles. While what’s effective will vary based on the person or situation, there are a number of tried-and-true fundamentals that make the difference between simply sharing information and communication that moves people to action (and that they feel great about). Maybe we should call this principle-centered communication.

6 Essential Leadership Communication Principles to Set You Apart as a Leader

Principle 1: Communicate with integrity

  • Employees want to know what you have to say, but more importantly, who you are and what you stand for.
  • People are more apt to trust you when your actions match your words. Even better, do what you say before you say it. Lead by example.
  • You are a valued messenger. You either make or break the message.

Principle 2: Make time to communicate and make the most of that time

  • Saying you don’t have time to communicate means you don’t have time to lead.
  • If the message is important enough, it deserves face-to-face communication, or at least voice-to-voice.

Principle 3: Remember the fundamentals

  • Always speak the truth, without exception.
  • Share the “big picture” first. It helps everyone start with the same base of knowledge.
  • Cover the basic questions employees have first—Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
  • Constantly communicate the “why” to make action meaningful. Always answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” and “Why should I care?”
  • Tell people what needs to be done and help them do it.
  • Ask questions. Employees want to have their opinions heard.
  • If you don’t know, say so.
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Principle 4: Use stories

  • Tell stories because they create meaning and can be shared. The right anecdote can be worth a thousand theories or facts, and will more likely be remembered.
  • Make your stories memorable and keep them fresh and relevant.
  • Listen to employees’ stories. You can learn a lot about them and what’s on their minds through what they say and the stories they tell.

Principle 5: Build trust and credibility

  • Be visible and approachable. You’ve got to be seen to be trusted.
  • Take the time to explain yourself and your thinking. Make yourself predictable to your employees.
  • Employees will follow you if you genuinely make them feel good about themselves and display an honest appreciation for who they are and what they do for the organization.
  • Ask for your employees’ opinions regularly. Engage them openly and fully. You might be surprised what you learn.
  • Create opportunities for conversations that create understanding, and spread knowledge and expertise.

Principle 6: Check for understanding

  • The job isn’t done when the message is sent. Make sure it’s heard and really understood.
  • Go beyond answering questions. Think of it as an opportunity to respond to people, address their issues, and show you care.
  • Ask employees questions to check their level of understanding and really listen to what they’re saying.

What one or two principles do you need to work on that would make a significant difference for your employees?

—David Grossman

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