5 communication mistakes that keep you from sounding like a leader

Communication skills are vital for senior leaders on campus, who must be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders representing a diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives.

But even if communication skills don't come naturally to you, you can develop them over time, Rebecca Shambaugh writes in Harvard Business Review. Shambaugh, president of SHAMBAUGH and founder of Women In Leadership and Learning, lists a few communications mistakes executives often make and how to fix them:

Mistake 1: Getting the timing wrong

Context matters, Shambaugh writes. If you're not speaking up when people look to you for ideas, or if you're sharing a point that's irrelevant to the meeting at hand, you're going to seem out of sync with the broader culture. Before each meeting, Shambaugh recommends identifying whether this is a meeting where you are the primary authority, a meeting focused on collaboration, or a meeting where you should go into "learning mode."

Mistake 2: Taking a narrow perspective

Everyone sometimes forgets to think beyond their own day-to-day role, but senior leaders need to take "an enterprise view that focuses less on themselves and more on the wider organization," Shambaugh writes. When you make a proposal, show that you understand how it would affect other functional areas and how it supports the broader mission of the organization.

Mistake 3: Failing to nurture relationships

When you're busy, it's easy to spend too much time at your desk and forget the value of developing relationships across your organization, Shambaugh writes. But this can hamper your ability to understand the broader perspective. She recommends grabbing coffee with someone outside your immediate team each week to understand that person's work.

Mistake 4: Focusing on problems

One of the most frustrating experiences at work occurs when someone brings up a problem and doesn't offer a solution, Shambaugh writes. Anyone can point fingers at problems, but leaders come up with ideas for fixing them, she adds. Shambaugh recommends brainstorming creative solutions—and trying to go "beyond the obvious"—before pointing out an issue.

Mistake 5: Losing your cool

When a crisis strikes, that's precisely the moment when your team will be looking to you for levelheaded support, Shambaugh notes. Even if you feel stressed, she recommends focusing on the facts and staying calm (Shambaugh, Harvard Business Review, 10/31). 


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