7 Rules to Effective Communication as a Leader

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effective communication in leadership

As a leader, your words wield immense influence. They can inspire action, forge connections, and propel your team toward success. But conversely, ineffective communication can lead to misunderstandings, disengagement, and missed opportunities. Mastering the art of conversation is a non-negotiable skill for any leader who aspires to greatness.

In this article, we’ll explore the seven essential rules that can transform your conversations from mundane to remarkable. By adhering to these rules, leaders, and organizations can initiate a ripple effect that spreads beyond just the speaker. Through direct interactions, effective leader communication fosters positive relationships, encourages collaboration, and ultimately drives transformative organizational change.

If you’re dedicated to developing your leadership skills and creating a more positive and influential presence, this article is for you. Let’s dive into each practical strategy that you can implement right away to enhance your leadership conversation skills.

1. Common Decency and Respect to All Participants

Let’s start with the foundation of any meaningful interaction: Respect. Every person in a conversation, regardless of their role or status, deserves to be treated with dignity and courtesy. This means active listening, acknowledging their contributions, and avoiding dismissive or condescending language.

A Leader Should Show Common Decency And Respect To All Participants

Difficult conversations are a natural part of leadership and management, as highlighted by Harvard Business Review. To navigate these conversations successfully, leaders should prioritize building trust, consider the different layers of the conversation, actively listen, collaborate on solutions, and approach discussions with mutual trust and honesty. By following these strategies, you can effectively manage difficult conversations and maintain a positive working environment.

Examples of Respectful and Disrespectful Behavior

Respectful BehaviorDisrespectful Behavior
Saying “thank you” for contributionsInterrupting or talking over others
Acknowledging different opinionsBelittling or dismissing others’ ideas
Using inclusive languageUsing discriminatory or offensive language
Giving credit where it’s dueTaking credit for others’ work
Offering constructive feedbackPublicly criticizing or humiliating someone

Remember, respect isn’t just about what you say; it’s also about how you say it. Your tone of voice, body language, and even facial expressions can convey respect or its absence.

2. Setting Clear Expectations

Ambiguity is the enemy of effective communication. When you set clear expectations, you provide a roadmap for your team, minimizing confusion and frustration. Whether it’s outlining project goals, defining individual responsibilities, or establishing timelines, clarity is key.

Think of it like this: if your team doesn’t know where you’re headed, how can they possibly help you get there?

Set Clear Expectations

Engage Team Members in Setting and Managing Expectations

As a leader of your organization, you should communicate expectations clearly and consistently and create an environment where your employees feel empowered to meet those expectations. Engaging team members in establishing expectations enhances their understanding and acceptance of such expectations. This collaborative approach cultivates a feeling of ownership and commitment, leading to improved outcomes.

By setting clear performance expectations and investing in programs to support employees in meeting those expectations, we can pave the way for success.

3. Giving Undivided Attention (Being Present)

Give Your Undivided Attention

In our fast-paced world, distractions are ever-present. However, when in a conversation, it is essential to give your undivided attention. Put away distractions such as your phone and laptop, make eye contact, and convey that you value the other person’s time and input.

Being present isn’t just about physical presence; it’s about mental presence, too. Actively listen to the other person, ask clarifying questions if needed, and summarize their points to ensure mutual understanding.

The Power of Presence

The book “Power of Presence” by Kristi Hedges highlights that leadership is not solely about what you say or do but also about how you show up. It emphasizes that presence is not just about charisma but a fundamental leadership skill that can be developed and honed. It’s about being fully present and engaged in interactions, which can significantly impact how leaders are perceived and how effectively they can lead.  Leaders who allow themselves to get distracted by devices such as their smartphones are hurting productivity, according to the Harvard Business Review.

When leaders are present, their message is more likely to resonate with others, and they become more persuasive and inspiring. This can lead to increased buy-in for their ideas and initiatives.

4. Be Punctual (Communicate When You Won’t Be)

Punctuality is a sign of respect and professionalism. When you arrive on time, you demonstrate that you value other people’s time and are reliable. It helps build trust in both personal and professional relationships. Being punctual can lead to increased opportunities and a positive reputation. It also reduces stress for everyone involved, as it ensures smooth scheduling and avoids unnecessary delays.

Despite your best efforts, there may be times when unforeseen circumstances prevent you from being punctual. In such cases, communication is key. As soon as you realize you’ll be late, inform the other person or people involved. Explain the reason for your delay and provide an estimated arrival time. This shows respect for their time and allows them to adjust their plans accordingly. Be sincere and apologetic for any inconvenience caused.

Communicate When You Are Late

By making a conscious effort to be punctual and communicating effectively when delays are unavoidable, you can build stronger relationships, enhance your leadership image, and avoid unnecessary stress for yourself and others. Remember, time is a valuable resource, and respecting it is a fundamental aspect of courtesy and professionalism.

Overcoming Challenges through Proactive Communication

Mark, CEO of a construction company, was scheduled to lead a critical strategic planning meeting with his executive team. However, an unforeseen flight delay threatened to derail the entire day.

Rather than allowing stress and panic to take over, Mark proactively communicated the situation. He immediately sent a group message to his team, informing them of the delay, providing an estimated arrival time, and offering two solutions:

  1. Postpone the meeting: This would ensure everyone’s time was respected and allow for a focused discussion upon his arrival.
  2. Delegate: Mark outlined key agenda items and proposed that his team begin the discussion with a senior leader temporarily facilitating the meeting.

Mark’s proactive communication accomplished several things:

  • Transparency: He avoided leaving his team in the dark, wondering about his whereabouts and the status of the meeting.
  • Respect: He acknowledged the value of their time and offered solutions that minimized disruption.
  • Empowerment: By offering the option to delegate, he showed confidence in his team’s ability to move forward, even in his absence.

In the end, the team chose to proceed with the meeting, with Mark joining remotely as soon as he could. The delay, while inconvenient, ultimately had minimal impact on the overall outcome.

5. Don’t Over Solve Everything

As a leader, it’s tempting to jump in and solve every problem that arises. But sometimes, the best approach is to empower your team to find their own solutions. This not only builds their skills and confidence but also frees up your time for more strategic tasks.

Burnt Out Leader

The Power of Questions

One of the most powerful tools for leaders who want to avoid over solving is the art of asking the right questions. Consider these:

  • “What are your thoughts on how to approach this?”
  • “What resources do you feel you need to address this?”
  • “What have you tried so far, and what have you learned from that?”

By asking questions that encourage reflection, creativity, and ownership, you’ll transform conversations into catalysts for growth and development.

Over-Solving and Its Consequences

Sarah, the head of an engineering department, was known for her brilliance and quick solutions. When her team encountered a technical snag on a major project, Sarah immediately swooped in with a detailed plan to get things back on track. While her plan worked, she noticed her team seemed less engaged and less confident in their own abilities during the next few weeks.

Reflecting on this, Sarah realized she had unintentionally taken control ownership of the problem, leaving her team feeling sidelined. She shifted her approach. During the next challenge, instead of offering a ready-made solution, she facilitated a brainstorming session. She asked open-ended questions, encouraged diverse perspectives, and ultimately empowered her team to come up with their own solution. The result? A more innovative solution, a reinvigorated team, and stronger problem-solving skills across the board.

Team Brainstorming

Remember: Your role as a leader is not to have all the answers but to foster an environment where everyone feels empowered to contribute their best.

6. Be Receptive (Don’t React with “No” First), See if a “Yes” is Possible

Innovation thrives in an environment of openness and possibility. When someone presents a new idea, don’t shut it down immediately with a “no.” Explore it, ask questions, and see if there’s a way to make it work.

A receptive leader would actively listen to the idea, asking probing questions to understand the rationale behind it. In contrast, a less receptive leader might dismiss the idea outright, citing traditional approaches or personal biases. This not only stifles innovation but also discourages team members from sharing their ideas in the future. 

Even the scientific community, known for its objectivity, can be surprisingly resistant to new ideas that challenge established norms. This is a valuable lesson for businesses, as organizations can also become entrenched in their ways and resistant to change.

Take the example of Mark Cuban, a savvy investor who passed on the opportunity to invest in Uber when it was still a fledgling startup. As Cuban himself admitted, this “biggest miss ever” underscores the importance of being open to new ideas and not dismissing them prematurely.

Cultivating a Culture of Openness

Leaders can learn from these examples by actively cultivating an environment that encourages intellectual curiosity and embraces diverse perspectives.

To successfully navigate the ever-changing business landscape, leaders must be skilled at communicating new ideas in a way that resonates with their teams. This involves clearly articulating the value and potential benefits of the idea. It also means addressing any concerns or resistance head-on.

By acknowledging and addressing potential objections, leaders can build trust and create a sense of shared ownership in the innovation process. By actively seeking out and considering alternative viewpoints, leaders can ensure that their decision-making is well-informed. This ultimately leads to a more agile and adaptable organization, ready to embrace change and drive innovation.

Be A Receptive Leader

How to Be Receptive to New Ideas

  • Practice Active Listening: Give your full attention to the person sharing the idea. Ask clarifying questions and try to understand their perspective.
  • Suspend Judgment: Don’t dismiss an idea outright. Take time to consider its potential benefits and drawbacks.
  • Challenge Your Assumptions: Be willing to question your existing beliefs and consider alternative viewpoints.
  • Cultivate Curiosity: Approach new ideas with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
  • Embrace Feedback: Seek out feedback from others and be open to constructive criticism.
  • Experiment and Take Risks: Don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside of your comfort zone.

Embracing New Ideas and Fostering Creativity and Excellence

Receptive leadership, as emphasized by EHL Hospitality Business School, is a key element of human-centered leadership that is characterized by open communication, active listening, and psychological safety

Leaders who embrace this approach genuinely value employee input, encourage questions and feedback, and foster a safe space for dialogue, even when faced with challenging conversations. This two-way communication cultivates trust, collaboration, and innovation within the organization.

7. Understand Your Words and Attitude Matter

Your words and attitude shape your team’s emotional climate. Choose them carefully. Positive, encouraging language can uplift and motivate, while negative or critical language can dampen spirits and hinder progress.

Have you ever stopped to think about how much your words and actions can affect the people around you?  One of my absolute favorite movie scenes from Remember the Titans (youtube.com), is a great example of how a leader not focusing on themselves and simply expecting others to do or behave a certain way can lead to poor results.

As a business leader, you wield immense influence. Your decisions shape your company’s trajectory, but your words and attitude also profoundly impact your team, your culture, and your bottom line. 

Why Your Words and Attitude Are Your Most Powerful Tools

  • Setting the Tone: Your communication style sets the emotional temperature of your workplace. A positive, encouraging leader fosters a motivated, collaborative team. A negative or dismissive leader can stifle creativity and breed resentment.
  • Building (or Eroding) Trust: Trust is the foundation of any successful organization. Your words must be consistent with your actions to build credibility. Mixed messages or a lack of authenticity will quickly undermine your leadership.
  • Driving Performance: How you deliver feedback, assign tasks, or even greet your team members can significantly impact their performance. Constructive criticism, clear expectations, and genuine appreciation are far more effective than negativity or micromanagement.
  • Shaping Your Brand: In an era of social media and constant scrutiny, your personal brand is intertwined with your company’s brand. Your public communication reflects on your organization, so choose your words wisely.

Mastering the Art of Mindful Communication

Words And Attitude Matter
  1. Self-Awareness is Key: Understand your default communication style. Are you naturally optimistic or prone to pessimism? Do you tend to be direct or more diplomatic? Recognizing your tendencies helps you make conscious adjustments when needed.
  2. Pause Before You Speak: In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to blurt out something you’ll regret. Take a deep breath, consider the impact of your words, and choose them thoughtfully.
  3. Empathy First: Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. How will your message be received? Tailor your communication to resonate with them, showing understanding and respect for their perspective.
  4. Positive Framing: Even difficult conversations can be approached with a positive mindset. Focus on solutions, growth opportunities, and shared goals rather than dwelling on problems or assigning blame.
  5. Body Language Speaks Volumes: Your nonverbal cues matter just as much as your words. Maintain eye contact, use open gestures and project confidence. Your body language should reinforce your message.

The Impact of Choice

Imagine a scenario where a team faces a challenging client meeting. A careless leader might express defeatism, saying, “This client is impossible to please. We’ll never win them over.” This negativity can quickly spread through the team, lowering morale and hindering their performance. A mindful leader would focus their communications so they are acknowledging the challenge but emphasize confidence and adaptability, perhaps stating, “This client has high expectations, but I believe we can tailor our approach to meet their needs.” This positive outlook inspires the team to brainstorm creative solutions and approach the meeting with optimism while also clearly stating the expectations for the team to work through the challenge

Your Words Are Your Legacy

By mastering your words and attitude, you’ll cultivate a strong culture, empower your team, and drive your organization toward lasting success. Remember, your communication style is a reflection of your leadership—make it one that inspires greatness.

Continuously Improve and Reflect

Continuously Improve As A Leader

As an executive coach, I often see leaders reaching new heights by embracing the following principles:

Communication as a Dynamic Skill

As an effective leader, you should understand the communication strategies that worked yesterday may not be optimal today. You should be willing to:

  • Experiment: Try new approaches to connect with their audience, whether it’s adopting different presentation styles, utilizing new communication technologies, or adjusting their language to better resonate with diverse groups.
  • Seek Feedback: Actively solicit feedback from trusted sources (colleagues, mentors, coaches) to gain valuable insights into their communication strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Adapt and Evolve: Embrace constructive criticism and use it as fuel for personal and professional development.

The Power of Reflection

Reflection is a critical component of the improvement cycle. Taking time to step back from the daily hustle, assess your communication efforts, and learn from both successes and setbacks will actually save you time in the long run, as difficult a practice as it may seem to be initially.

Here are some tools and techniques to enhance your reflection process:

  • Journaling: Keep a communication journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and observations after important meetings, presentations, or conversations.
  • Video/Audio Recording: Review recordings of your communications to analyze your body language, tone of voice, and overall delivery.
  • 360-Degree Feedback: Seek input from colleagues, direct reports, and supervisors to gain a holistic view of your communication impact.
  • Self-Assessment Frameworks: Utilize models like the Johari Window or the Communication Effectiveness Profile to identify areas for growth.
  • Coaching/Mentoring: Partner with a coach or mentor to gain expert guidance and support in your communication development journey.

Remember, your communication skills are a powerful tool for driving organizational success. By investing in ongoing development and reflection, you can become a more influential, inspiring, and effective leader.


By embracing these seven rules, you can transform your conversations into powerful tools for leadership. You’ll build stronger relationships, foster a more positive work environment, and achieve greater success as a team.

Are you ready to take your communication skills to the next level? Schedule a free consultation with Strategy People Culture today and discover how our executive coaching programs can help you become a more impactful leader.

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Andy Botwin

Andy is a seasoned executive & leadership coach, independent workplace investigator, and trainer with more than 25 years of experience working with companies across various levels. He was Chief Human Resources Officer for a 1500+ person professional services firm and a Principal & Chief Human Resources Officer for a top national professional services firm where he drove culture change in the organization culminating in recognition on Fortune Magazine’s prestigious 100 Great Places to Work in America.