Or, How To Know If You Are A Bad Leader (And How To Fix It) 

In 2022, employees experienced five times the number of planned changes that they saw in 2016. Not surprisingly, that drastic increase in the volume of change greatly reduced employee willingness to support it. I’ve written a new report on how leaders should communicate during a time of continuous change. Guiding the workforce through this ongoing and urgent change will require leaders who are excellent communicators. Are your leadership communication skills up to the challenge?

I bet you think they already are.

Most senior execs don’t get a lot of sincere feedback on their leadership communication skills, so you probably think you’re doing just fine. But can you risk being wrong? There are warning signs that it might be time to pay more attention to your communication skills, such as:

  1. Your forecasts are wrong. Did you think that I was going to say something about engagement survey results? Nope. One of the first signs that leaders are failing to communicate is that people don’t really understand the goals. It’s also a sign that people don’t feel safe telling it like it is and may be concealing risks rather than telling you something you don’t want to hear. This leads to poor forecasting and unexpected misses.
  2. People (other than peer execs) can’t articulate the vision. In order for people to take the risk (yes, it’s a risk) of engaging with a change initiative, they have to understand the purpose. If you have 5–10 major changes happening over the course of a year, surely they connect to some overarching vision, right? As an executive, you are probably deeply familiar with that vision, but are others? It’s easy to find out — just go ask various people throughout the organization to explain what they think that vision is. You might be surprised at what you hear.
  3. You listen to the same (small) group of people often. How big is your circle of trust? When was the last time you sat down with the people who do the work? And when you do, do they just tell you that everything is great? If you are not hearing (and actually considering) things you may not like from people who sit outside the executive circle on a weekly basis, you’re not leading.
  4. The same questions keep coming up over and over. What were the questions like in your last town hall? Does it seem like people just keep asking the same thing again and again? You can’t give employees the same kind of “exec speak” that you use on calls with shareholders and analysts. These are people whose livelihoods are inextricably tied to their work, and while you might have to “make the hard choices,” your employees are the ones who actually experience most of the consequences. Sure, you might get a smaller bonus, but they might lose their jobs. Asking the same question is a way for people to say that they don’t believe you, don’t think you are listening, and don’t think you care.
  5. There are no (or very few) questions. At first, when people are frustrated and confused, they ask lots of questions. But when they don’t get answers, or the answers don’t make sense, they stop. You might think that no questions means no worries, but it’s actually the opposite: No questions means that people are distancing themselves from the process and disengaging with the work.

No one is a perfect communicator; everyone has room and the ability to grow. If some of these signs seem familiar to you, don’t ignore them — do something about it. For Forrester clients who have access to our research, you can read my new report on leadership communication skills in times of change and then schedule time to talk. If you’re not a Forrester client, you can check out our leadership track at the upcoming CX Summit North America event in June.

Let’s fix this.