As most of you know, the study (and teaching) of leadership is a passion mine. I have seen what good leadership can do for productivity, morale, employee retention and so much more. I have also seen the negative effects of poor leadership. One of the most widespread areas where leadership breaks down is with communication. As those who have taken our leadership class knows, we cover an entire section on communication. We do the same with our FTO class. The more research I do in the area of leadership, the more I see regarding the importance of good communication practices.

In our leadership class, we discuss some communications barriers, such as failure to listen, status differences, noise, fear of negative feedback and jumping to conclusions. We also discuss techniques to ensure these barriers are knocked down. As you can probably guess, this month’s article discusses communication in the leadership arena. I found an article in the Harvard Business Review that discusses eight good communication practices leaders should be utilizing every day to ensure their employees completely understand objectives, goals and general day to day operations.

1. Have the ability to adapt one’s communication style

Your team will be made up of people who use different communication styles of their own. If you communicate one way, say in an authoritative manner, it may work with those that use that style, but not the ones that use different styles. You should know what leadership style you use, and communicate with, and look for feedback from your people on its efficacy. This is where you put your pride in your back pocket and work with your team to improve communication. Good leaders understand that leadership, and communication, is situational. You may have some employees that require more detail and explanation and some that may require less. Know your people and the situation and use the proper communication style.

2. Active Listening

As we say in our leadership class – listening is not waiting for your turn to talk. Listening is a CRUCIAL component in communication. But, there is a difference between casual listening and active listening. Active listening requires you to be absolutely present in the conversation. It involves asking clarifying questions and repeating points to illustrate you understand. Make sure you have cleared away distractions, such as your computer, phone, radio, other employees if need be. Active listening requires effort, but the benefit is that your employees will respect you more and you will gain a better understanding of their perspective.

3. Transparency

Where have you heard this before??? In a survey by the American Management Association, more than a third of senior managers, executives, and employees said they “hardly ever” know what’s going on in their organizations. This can lead to problems within your agency. If the rank and file do not know what is going on, they will speculate and theorize, which can lead to rumors and misinformation. Transparency can do wonders for breaking down communication barriers. Make sure your people are informed; keep them in the loop on all matters that you are allowed to share. When I was a lieutenant, I would share the minutes from all staff meetings with my entire shift. I would exclude any personnel items, but the rest was not top secret. Why not share with them what is happening, what is coming down the pike and what goals and objectives the administration is working on?

4. Clarity

In essence, don’t speak with your people in generalities. Be specific. Explain with clarity what your expectations are, timelines, strategic plans, milestones, quality work products, etc. Clarity can mean less confusion. Everyone will know, with detail, what the goals are, what their expectations are and whether they are moving in an appropriate direction.

5. Empathy

“There’s a reason empathy has been ranked the top leadership skill needed for success. The better you get at acknowledging and understanding employees’ feelings and experiences, the more heard and valued they’ll feel.

In a recent survey (pdf), 96 percent of respondents said it was important for their employers to demonstrate empathy, yet 92 percent claimed it remains undervalued. If you want to improve your communication and build a stronger, more productive culture, practice responding with empathy.” (Landry, 2019)

6. Receiving and Implementing Feedback

When we discuss tactics to improve communication in our leadership class, I suggest that the students obtain feedback from the people they lead on the efficacy of their communication. This is another point in class where I get funny looks. It takes humility for a leader to ask subordinates about what the leader is doing well and not so well. But as I have said a million times, a key component to leadership IS humility. You will have to make sure that your people know that you are not going to bite their heads off or hold grudges just because they give you what you are asking for. Put your pride away and have a discussion. It will only make you better and will help to reinforce trust with your people.

In summation, just remember that good communication actually takes effort. We take it for granted and in doing so, we can miss out on key information that can help to deal with production, morale, personnel issues, and so on. Make sure you are knocking down the barriers to effective communication and also make sure you are getting feedback from your people on how well you communicate.

Tim Jones


Landry, L. November, 2019. 8 Essential leadership communication skills. Found in: