Top 3 Communication Mistakes That Leaders Make

We’ve all experienced the consequences of poor communication or a lack of effective communication in the workplace: strained employee relationships, poor morale, non-productivity, misunderstandings,… the list goes on. It’s a leader’s job to set the tone and standard for communication in any organization.

Effective leaders know that they must set the example for organizational culture. When good communication skills start at the top, the model can promote emotional intelligence and trust throughout an organization.Design team working on plans

             “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”
                                                            ~James Humes

Common Leadership Mistakes

Communication is a vital leadership skill that can boost business relationships and profitability, benefitting your organization from the top down. If you want to communicate effectively with your teams, it’s important to avoid common communication mistakes.

Let’s take a look at three of the most common ones.

1. Leaders say one thing and do another. (#1 Trust Buster!)

55% of CEOs say that lack of trust is an obstacle to their business growth—and mixed messages are likely to blame. The number one way that leaders dismantle a culture of trust is by failing to model the behaviors they ask of their employees.

“Do as I say, not as I do” is a costly approach in the workplace. When a leader’s words don’t match their actions, it creates cognitive dissonance. This glaring habit in leadership is a disconnect with far-reaching consequences: employees who question motives and mistrust the leader while resenting the double standard. Trust collapses as the leader’s behavior directly contradicts the values promoted by a company’s mission.

It’s a leader’s responsibility to model the behavior they want to see in their employees and teams. In other words, as a leader, your words need to align with your actions to build trust. For instance, a leader might say to an employee, “Yes, you’re perfect for the position, and you definitely have the dedication and skill for the promotion.” Then they hire someone from outside the company for the same position without allowing current employees an opportunity to interview or apply.

Of course, it is a leader’s prerogative to hire anyone they feel is best for a position. The point here is for a leader to be deliberate in conversations with employees. Don’t say one thing and do another. Even nonverbal communication, such as body language, should support your verbal messages rather than negate them.

Related reading: “How to Skyrocket Your Results with Authentic Leadership.”
An authentic leader giving feedback to an employee

2. Leaders give too little helpful feedback while giving too much criticism. 

Leaders sometimes hold back from giving feedback, constructive or otherwise, out of the fear that employees will not receive their input well. Or, they give vague or unhelpful feedback or continually find fault, which leaves their employees feeling dejected and criticized instead of motivated to improve.

Without consistent and effective feedback, employees lack the ingredients—and incentive—to change their nonproductive behavior. Alternatively, constructive feedback can benefit an organization at multiple levels. Studies of managers show that those who receive feedback on their strengths are 8.9% more profitable and 12.5% more productive than those who do not.

It’s necessary not only to offer employees regular opportunities to receive feedback but also to ensure the feedback you’re giving them generates results. Effective feedback comes from the heart, takes place at a time that works for all parties, is respectful, relevant, and offers the receiver the opportunity to respond and ask questions. When any of these ingredients are missing, your feedback can be misunderstood, dismissed, or met with resistance.

3. Leaders don't know how to listen to employees.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: communication is a two-way street, not a cul-de-sac. Your goal as a leader is to talk with your employees, not at them. Two-way communication shows mutual respect and helps employees feel appreciated and understood. When your employees see that you genuinely care about them, they are more likely to produce positive results on behalf of your organization.

To help employees feel understood, practice active listening skills, such as showing genuine interest, making eye contact, or using affirming body language like keeping your arms open (instead of crossed) or nodding to show you are listening.

Most importantly, implement the feedback you receive from your team when applicable; follow-through on their ideas shows you value their opinions. Once again, it’s a leader’s job to lead by demonstrating what it looks like to receive and act on feedback. You cannot expect your employees to accept constructive criticism if you’re unwilling to receive it yourself. As long as employees are sincere and respectful, encourage open and transparent communication.

Related reading: Good Communication Is Vital for a Successful Business

The Cost of Poor Communication

The costs of poor workplace communication are high, especially when a lack of effective communication by leadership erodes employee trust. Effective communication saves your organization time and money by protecting organizational resources and reducing personnel costs.

Companies with leaders who communicate inconsistently or ineffectively with their employees and teams run the risk of: 

  • Low retention
  • Misuse of paid time off and sick days
  • Resentful and/or unengaged employees
  • Poor performance
  • Lack of growth because employees don’t know how to improve but are too afraid of getting in trouble to ask for help
  • Loss of business resources

Co-workers assessing analyticsWhat to Do Instead

So, how can you prevent these common communication mistakes, conserve resources, and promote employee trust and engagement in the workplace?

Here are three ways to counter workplace miscommunication and encourage an open dialogue with your employees and teams:

1. Listen responsively.
The goal of responsive listening is to hear what the person is saying and NOT saying. What do I mean by listening to what they’re not saying?
If it feels like an employee is holding back, say so. Do they appear conflicted? If so, mirror that back. When you are unclear, ask questions. Once you feel that you understand what they’re trying to say, check in to ensure you haven’t misunderstood. Then, respond in meaningful ways that promote understanding, connection, and alignment with values. You are partnering in communication and always modeling relationship building.

2. Under-promise, over-deliver.
Don’t announce anything unless you are committed to doing it, or else you run the risk of discouraging employees with a lack of action and follow-through. You cannot expect your employees to follow through without doing the same yourself. You must walk your talk.

3. Give regular, specific, and effective feedback.
Practice active listening skills, so all feedback is relevant, meaningful, and helpful. Be prepared to remain open-minded when employees offer their perspectives, suggestions, and constructive criticism. Implement whenever possible their recommendations that are brand-consistent, align with company values, and truly have merit.

If you find that your organization would benefit from training and support to increase emotional intelligence and communication skills, contact us at We specialize in creating open, honest, and effective communication in companies.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for BusinessJennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity for Business
Jennifer, the founder of Heartmanity, is an Executive Coach and Relationship Strategist. Her two decades of expertise in training leaders and teams give her amazing insights. Jennifer's primary focuses are authentic leadership, effective communication, and emotional intelligence in the workplace. Jennifer teaches a holistic approach, specializing in transforming unproductive behaviors into emotionally intelligent actions, which creates thriving work relationships and catapults a company to success.

Posted in Business and Leadership

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