5 barriers to effective leader communication—and how to overcome them

Top executives might clam up for any number of reasons: Maybe they fear bearing bad news, or established practices leave messaging to someone else. Try making these pivotal adjustments.

One frequent problem for PR pros is that their bosses don’t communicate well.

Here are five common causes of leaders’ poor communication, along with solutions:

1. They don’t understand its importance. Many leaders think they can delegate this function. After all, why have a head of communications if leaders have to communicate themselves? PR pros have to help company leaders understand that they must seen listening, learning and understanding—not just broadcasting their own opinions.

2. It’s too complicated. Often, leaders ignore the organization’s established values and instead focus on brand messaging. A good corporate message must be simple and powerful, so it can withstand multiple iterations, and it must reflect the leader’s beliefs. PR pros must persuade leaders to think and act in a more forthright way, not help them spin their way out of trouble.

3. They aren’t allowed to communicate effectively. Too often, corporate communicators and PR pros impede leaders’ communication by expecting them to be perfect, polished and professional. People trust people they can relate to. It’s time to let the leader’s personality shine through. Authenticity matters.

4. They don’t want to communicate bad news. Like anyone else, leaders want to be liked and respected. They want to avoid conflict and any association with failure. They shun bad news, fearing people will adopt a “kill the messenger” mindset. The best way to deal with bad news is to deliver it yourself, seizing the initiative and setting the agenda.

5. They’re hamstrung by fear, uncertainty and doubt. Leaders are used to succeeding, and communicating carries a risk of failure. Consider again the above four reasons and solutions. If leaders understand the importance, they can do it. If PR pros make communicating easier, then leaders can do it. We must help them be their best selves—and put them in control of framing the narrative.

Stuart Bruce is managing consultant of Stuart Bruce Associates. A version of this post first appeared on his blog.

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