Three Common Mistakes Leaders Make When Communicating Change


We have seen leaders fail in communicating change in three basic ways: not telling enough, not listening enough, and not telling the truth enough.

Not Telling Enough

Leaders are usually ahead of the people they are leading. They usually know information before employees and have thought through situations before employees even know what is going on. This can lead them to forget that employees do not know what they know. The result is many leaders do not communicate enough. Not only is it important to share information, it is important to repeat it often. When stressed, scared, or overwhelmed, people need to hear things many times before it sinks in.

Not Listening Enough

No different than other times in organizational life, during change leaders’ default communication mode is telling. Some reasons for this are:

*The chaos and ambiguity of change drive leaders to think they need to have all the answers. They feel obliged to lead, which often means to them, give direction. Then, they focus their time on trying to give t employees all the answers rather than have dialogues.


*Telling people what to do is easier than asking them how things are going and then really listening to the answer.

If leaders do ask questions, they tend to avoid the most important / tough questions. Leaders might not have dealt with or assimiliated the reality of the changes yet, so then they are uncomfortable asking employees about the same topics. This leaves question employees feeling like leaders don’t really care about what they think. Some right questions to ask are: “What do you think can really kill this change?” “What do you need to make this work?” These are the topics employees want to talk about and leaders often don’t want to, but need to, address.

Not Telling the Truth Enough

As Dr. Robert Schachat, a veteran executive coach and mentor of mine, used to say to his clients and friends alike about honest feedback, “Give it to me, I can take it!” One constant leadership dilemma during change is the issue: “How much truth can employees take”. On the one hand, leaders want to be open and disclose what they can. However, there is fear that since emotions are running high, too much information or the “wrong” information will distract or upset employees. The problem emerges when the pressure to succeed pushes up against the need to know. In our experience, we have found that employees can take the truth yet leaders hold it back. Our advice: Give it to them–they can take it.

This was first published in our book Perfect Phrases for Communicating Change (McGraw-Hill)


Increase Your Team's Swing: Learn How >