7 Keys to Leadership Communication: The Art of Knowing When To Stop Talking

imageFor a long time I have believed that there is an art in knowing when to stop talking. Who among us hasn’t had the experience of thinking: If I had just stopped talking about 2 or 3 sentences ago?? As a leader, this is especially true when we are asked for a direction, an explanation or a question (especially if it is a yes or no question). There really is no need to begin our response with The Book of Genesis, right?

Whether we are leading a staff, an army of volunteers, communicating with funding sources or a Board of Directors, the following are some of my essential observations about good leadership communication:

  • Be Clear and Direct    thHLDPVWFBHence, The Art of Knowing When To Stop Talking. Be clear about the message and convey it as succinctly as possible. Say it in as simple language as possible and avoid grandiose language. Avoid “triangular” communication, which can lead to problems. For example, triangular communication is involved when the director needs to deliver a message to Mary but instead delivers it to Sam, who may or may not convey it to Mary the way it was intended. Like “whisper down the alley”, communication can become inaccurate or get off topic. Be sure that the intended recipient of a message receives it directly.


  • Listen    th40A well-documented fact, successful and effective leaders listen. We cannot obtain information from people, departments or entire organizations if we do all of the talking all of the time. Skilled leaders know how to engage and facilitate others to do the talking in order that they may obtain the information they need. As Mike Myatt of Forbes says, Shut-up and listen!


  • Have an Agenda    Think ahead a bit about the beginning, middle and end of the th4communication. It is best to say or write up front in the beginning what the message is about. People tend to remember the beginning and, of course, how something ended but the middle part is more easily forgotten. For these reasons, introduce the intended message right at the beginning, use a wrap-up or summarizing technique at the end and place less critical or salient points in the middle of a message.


  • Always Be Respectful    th9O2GBEBKA key part of being a leader, be as upbeat and positive as possible in all communications, especially when having to deliver an unfavorable message. This may not always be easy to do especially in the face of conflict or adversary but at the end of the day “burning bridges” and destructive relationships will not benefit anyone or further the mission.


  • Non-Verbal Body Language   Be mindful of non-verbal body language. Our lips may be saying one thing but our bodies are saying another! When communicating a message, keep in mind things like thMPVRUEUOsitting behind a desk (power and control), standing over someone (intimidation) and – worst of all – crossing the arms (non-receptive, closed). Sometimes non-verbal body language speaks louder than the words we use.


  • The 5:1 Rule    Simply put, the 5:1 rule is that for every “constructive” message, there needs to be 5 positives. th3AEO8NAUIt is easier for leaders to praise rather than criticize: Although you need to gain speed in completing your daily reports, you are on time, dressed appropriately for the job, you are respectful to consumers, they look forward to seeing you and you have a great attitude!


  • Technology   Gone are the days when we dictated letters and someone else typed them for us. Today, if we need a letter, we type it ourselves – and more likely, we email or text it. In the age of electronics, it behooves leaders to use their smart phones and iPads wisely. Add Facebook and Twitter into the mix and we th27have a virtual jungle of communication with staff, Board members, funding sources and volunteers. In addition, know the preferred method of communication of the audience. This may translate into the same message being broadcasted by several different methods (e.g., website, email, Facebook) if the demographics of the audience are diverse. While many of our older donors prefer to receive their newsletters and annual reports in printed copy, the Gen X crowd wants to be texted or tweeted. Know how to best communicate with the intended audience.



Myatt, Mike (April 4, 2012). 10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders. Forbes. Retrieved on August 4, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/04/04/10-communication-secrets-of-great-leaders/

Craemer, Mark (December 29, 2011). 10 Tips to Improve Workplace Communication. Seattle pi. Retrieved on August 4, 2014, from  http://blog.seattlepi.com/workplacewrangler/2011/12/29/10-tips-to-improve-workplace-communication/


lead-er-ship: (n.) a person who guides or directs a group

th20I have always said there is more to being the boss than being bossy. A lot more. I think there is a tendency for us to confuse – and it is easy to do – the ideology of leadership with the act of supervision. Clearly, many situations and tasks need supervision; however, leadership is a bigger, broader picture than telling someone when and how to do something. Consequently, there are great supervisors who would not necessarily make great leaders and vice versa. Leadership comes in different sizes, shapes, colors, styles and gender – and at times from the most unlikely of places. Leadership styles aside – and there is an abundance of self-surveys available on-line and in any bookstore to help us figure out which particular brand each of us subscribes to – the following are several ideas for consideration about leadership:

  • Leaders have passion and vision. thCA042G37A leader not only has passion and dedication to the mission of the organization but also a vision for the organization beyond what is happening today or this week. He or she has a vision of how the organization’s mission will be played out in the next year as well as five years from now and uses many resources to guide the organization toward that vision.
  • Leaders focus on relationships. Leaders appear to know everyone because they understand the inherent value of relationships – both within the organization and in the community at-large. Good leaders do not readily “burn bridges” and they are skilled at networking and maintaining relationships even in the face of thCA8NY9DMadversary.
  • Leaders listen. Leaders also understand the art of listening to the other people around them (community stakeholders, staff, board members, partner organizations). Rather than frequently arguing their own agenda, leaders are more intent on listening to others in order to determine from whom their strongest support is coming in order to guide the organization toward the vision.
  • Leaders maintain poise and grace under pressure. A leader maintains positive energy even during trying circumstances. Contrary to the boss who seems to think that yelling, tantrums and blame are the only ways in which to get something done, a leader maintains personal dignity as well as that of the organization and rarely displays a disorderly response. thCAF169LIWhile ‘Fear Factor’ may make good television drama, it certainly has no place or benefit in non-profit management. Perpetual negative responses (or interactions) tend to diminish others’ confidence in one’s ability to lead.
  • Leadership develops leadership. Conversely, a leader bears the self-confidence in his or her own leadership such that other staff in the organization are encouraged to develop professionally. Leaders are comfortable in their roles. He or she not only supports and welcomes professional development but is also wise to consider his or her own succession at some point.
  • Leaders accept change. All of us have most likely experienced difficulty with th13change at some point in our lives. On the other hand, change is necessary and good. Leaders not only accept change, they often flourish with it, making change work for them and their organizations. Moreover, leaders effect change in order to guide the organization toward the vision for it.
  • Leaders lead. Plain and simple: Supervisors supervise and leaders lead. Finally, a leader who transgresses into others’ roles within the organization is not likely to thCAZVYZ05be as effective and efficient in facilitating the bigger picture development of the organization as one who clearly communicates  vision and goals for the organization. Leaders understand the hierarchy of the organization and how best to navigate it.

Frank’s Guidelines

A number of years ago, I decided that it was in my best interest to develop a personal statement of management philosophy that would speak to my ideas about managing other people and workloads in the non-profit work environment. My statement – written as a bulleted list that was intended to be telling about my actions as a manager yet somewhat humorous at the same time – was aptly titled Frank’s Guidelines. A single-page, typed document, Frank’s Guidelines has been taken along on interviews and for several years it was tacked on a bulletin board in my office.thCAHRJIJ0

Frank’s Guidelines has been around for quite some time now, occasionally tweaked here and there but substantively the same today as when I first put it together . As I write this, I struggle to remember just how old Frank’s Guidelines is. Suffice to say, I do remember taking it to a job interview in 2001 (I got the job) and it is likely a few years older than that. Nevertheless, here is Frank’s Guidelines – and hence, the springboard and title for my blog space:

  •  Our customers must come first

Plain and simple. If you can’t get behind the mission, customers, or cause of the             organization, there is probably no point in going any further.

  •  Meet or exceed the basic requirements or regulations

I have high expectations of myself and I push myself to perform above the “baseline”.     I also value this quality when I find it in others.

  •  Mistakes are OK as long as they don’t compromise the first two

Everyone makes mistakes. In the majority of cases, the sky does not fall when someone makes a mistake. Get over it, learn from mistakes, and keep moving forward as long as mistakes are not so egregious that they compromise the first two bullets.

  •  I’ll go anywhere or try anything at least once (and as long as it is not illegal)

Essentially, this is creative problem solving and “thinking outside the box”. I am willing to try new solutions to old problems and to take an occasional calculated risk as long as it does not compromise policy, ethics or the law.

  •  No surprisesthCAK68GO9

I like surprises on my birthday but not in the organization. Please do not surprise me with a project that is due today or a fiscal issue that was imminent weeks ago. I also work hard to keep you from being unnecessarily surprised.

  •  Look for the positive in every person and situation

I accentuate the positive, especially in the people who work with me. Everyone wants to be acknowledged or recognized. When I reinforce the positive behavior of others, I have already increased the likelihood that they are motivated to continue to perform positively.

  • Do an honest and clean job

I work with an “open book” mentality such that anyone can stop by to have a look and there is nothing to be embarrassed by later. No hidden agendas. I do my expected job everyday to the best of my ability and go home at the end of the day.

  •  Maintain constructive relationships and the self-esteem of others

This is really about burning bridges. The non-profit community operates on relationship building and partnerships. Once you put a negative out there, it is very difficult – if not impossible – to take it back and typically you reap what you sow.

  • Help other staff to develop professionally

Part of my job as a manager of people is to ensure that they have the resources and tools they need (within reason) to develop professionally. A thriving, capable and efficient staff that is able to problem solve on their feet sustains an organization.

  •  You take the monkey with you

The monkey is a problem. It is OK to come to me with your complaints or problems; however, I hope that in your next breath there will be a suggestion or an idea to resolve that problem. I allow staff to wrestle with their problems in a supportive environment. Again, other staff need to develop professionally.

  •  No whining

Ditto the previous bullet.

  •  I support the team decision even if it is not the way I’d do itthCAIFCF19

As a strong advocate of team building and the team process, it would be hypocritical of me not to support the team decision or to override the team decision. Let’s try it!

  •  I don’t claim to know everything

If I think that I know everything, there is really nowhere left to go, is there? There is always so much more to learn, see, and do. If I don’t know enough about a particular subject or issue, I will tell you that.

  •  Be enthusiastic

Similar to the first bullet, I am excited about the organization, mission, customers and people I work with! I want my enthusiasm to be contagious!

  •  Take the initiative to make things better

Whether I am streamlining a financial report for the Board of Directors, changing the toner in the copy machine, or taking the garbage out, I initiate making a situation better. As the old adage goes, if you see something that needs doing…

  •  Represent us well in the community

I recognize that every time that I step out of the door, I am shaping an image of how the community sees the organization. I always want it to be a positive one!

  •  Have a sense of humorthCACN1QF6

Last – but certainly not least – I have a sense of humor and I like to use humor appropriately in the workplace. More important, I am not afraid to laugh at myself!