The Mark of a Leader: What Does Your Communication Say About You?

Last week, TLNT republished an article from the vault in which John Hollon wrote that when it comes to good bossology, “There is no such thing as over communication.

How true.

In fact, when ZipRecruiter analyzed 250,000 job ads across a variety of industries, they found that 51 percent mentioned “communication” as a desired skill. No other mention came close. (A college degree, which came in second, was mentioned 21 percent of the time.)

Clearly, communication is king.

Of course, this communication thing isn’t always straightforward. For one, communication is about so much more than the words we say or even how we say them. For another, communication doesn’t merely transmit facts. Instead …

Communication reveals character

Bucky Keady, Vice President of Talent Management at Time Inc., answers work-related questions at Real Simple magazine. Recently she was asked, “Whom can you trust in a corporate environment when you’re starting a new job?”

Keady responded that in the first six months she doesn’t trust anyone because, “You really need to see people operate in stressful situations to learn who they are …” She adds, “Pay attention to how people communicate. That can tell you a lot.”

© cartoon resource at
© cartoon resource at

Well, praise the Lord and pass the biscuits. This advice is so good, I started following Keady on Twitter and am gearing up for a full-blown online stalker campaign.

The five parts of communication

In Why Emotional Intelligence Affects the Bottom Line, author and leadership devel-opment expert Anne Loehr says there are five parts of communication:

  1. What’s said;
  2. What’s not said;
  3. Words;
  4. Tone of voice;
  5. Body language.

Again, how true.

So, combining the wisdom of Keady and Loehr, here’s what a person’s communication can teach you about him or her (in five parts or less):

“Watch out! I’m a Taker.

Yes, people are complex, but ultimately you’re either a giver or a taker. Takers are more often than not angling for how someone or something can benefit them. Givers are more generous and tend to enjoy helping others even if there’s little or no personal gain to be had.

Takers can be known by their words and their non-words alike. Takers:

  • Withhold information. This keeps them in control.
  • Are gifted at “corporate speak” and the art of saying absolutely nothing in as many words as possible. This keeps their asses covered.
  • Aggressively solicit information without reciprocating. This makes me want to scream.

Case in point: I once had a new manager who constantly asked “How are things going?” and “How are you feeling?” ostensibly as a way of showing her concern for my well-being and the development of our working relationship.

Please … she couldn’t have cared less about my well being or our relationship. What she cared about was:

  1. Her image as a “good manager;” and,
  2. Getting information to use for God knows what nefarious purpose.

If she HAD cared, rather than try to worm information from me, she’d have offered some useful feedback about my damn performance. But that, ladies and gents, never happened. She was a classic taker.

“I’m a wimp”

Blame shifting is the wimpy manager’s tool of the trade.

I suspect many a wimpy manager justifies his (or her) non-management management with the lie that he (or she) is a progressive sort who “prefers to collaborate” while “giving everyone a fair say.” Uh, no.

Article Continues Below

The buck’s gotta stop somewhere, manager. Employees (and organizations) aren’t served by a wishy-washy sort who’s indecisive and wants everyone to like everything.

For example, I once interviewed for a job, getting to Round Four before being told by the hiring manager that while SHE had every confidence I could do the job, OTHER (unnamed) people in the company — but not the Executive Director, because I met her during Round Two — weren’t as confident.

Say what?

You, manager, are clearly spineless and probably clueless, too. Thanks for helping me dodge a bullet.

“You can trust me”

Of course, how a person communicates can divulge positive aspects of his or her personality as well.

Two of my favorite clients earned that distinction in the same way — by consistently taking pains to communicate clearly, keeping their word, apologizing for missteps no matter how slight, and showing a genuine concern for their impact on others even when stressed or distracted.

Rather than assume, they asked questions. Rather than state opinion as fact, they took ownership for their perceptions. Rather than ask a potentially embarrassing question in public, they asked it in private (and thereby prevented the possibility of revealing a screw-up to others NOT in the need to know).

At the same time, they held me accountable for results and made it clear they valued good work.

They were gems.

What does your communication say about you?

What does your communication say about you? I guarantee it’s saying something and perhaps something you don’t intend or would be unhappy to learn about yourself. Ask a trusted source, and believe what you hear.

On the flip side, what have you learned about others through their communications? Spill it in the comments below.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


5 Comments on “The Mark of a Leader: What Does Your Communication Say About You?

  1. Every corporation out there are takers. I think it is interesting to hear 51% or job descriptions mention “Communication” but not one company knows how to communicate adequately. Take for instance this mission statement I enjoyed reading:

    “Guided by relentless focus on our
    five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical
    initiatives required to achieve our vision.”

    This means absolutely nothing when you define the statement. Focus means: clarity of an image. Just because you are focusing on something doesn’t mean you have the intent to do anything about it. Constantly strive is another one of those puffer statements as well. The statement should read: : “Our five imperatives are our critical initiatives to achieve our vision.”

    A company can focus and strive all it wants but it will not guarantee accomplishing anything. Heck, I can set my goal in life as: “I will focus on each and every day and strive to be the best I can within my limitations.”

    How can a company demand communication when in fact they don’t know how to communicate themselves?

    1. Hmmm … El loco you don’t sound so loco! Good points.

      I suppose companies focus on communication in job ads because they KNOW it’s a problem.

      However, organizations with good communication aren’t simply bursting with gifted orators. Good communication is enabled by systems that support transparency, collaborative management (the real kind), and servant leadership. That’s why it’s rare.

      1. It has been said: In business ethical behavior starts with the leaders or top tier of managers. The rationale for this is: How can you get your employees to be ethical if the leaders are not ethical? I believe the same is true for communication.

        I also listened when a reporter interviewed Mr. Warren Buffet. The reporter asked if he could offer one bit of advice for business owners. He said “Learn how to communicate and then communicate with your people.” Too often times communication is defined as talking. This I believe is where managers lose the significance of communication. Communication is actually the sending and receiving of a message (includes listening by the sender and receiver), Noise (that gets in the way of sending and receiving), decoding information, and last but not least; feedback. There are also various forms of communication. Verbal, Non-Verbal, Hand gestures, and saying nothing. Communication is absolute. This means; even if we don’t send information verbally or non-verbally we are still communicating. Communication is unavoidable. If you ask your boss a question and he walks away without a reply he is communicating for you to Shut-up.

        I had a boss come to me one time and ask me why I didn’t come to him and inform him I needed some tools. I told him I did, at least 5 times, I also went to other bosses and told them as well. I received no feedback so I decided asking r was futile. He said to me: “I forgot, I have been so busy!” and then proceeded to tell me that sometimes people forget and that is why I need to keep asking for something. At that point I told him that after one or two times the message is futile. I then asked him how many times should I ask before I get frustrated that you aren’t listening? 10X, 100X. After two times there at least needs to be an attempt at feedback. Besides, I understand that he has been busy but what am I? Chopped Liver? Is he trying to tell me I am not working hard enough?

    2. First thoughts on reading that mission statement.
      1. what are those ‘five imperatives’?

      2. why so many weasel words?
      3. define those ‘critical initiatives’.

      Compare that to the mission statement of another company:
      “To meet or exceed our customers standards”
      Nails it. You know exactly what they want to do.

      1. I am not trying to be argumentative here but that mission statement really does not “Nail it.” First of all, meeting a customer’s standards means providing them with a product that meets the customers expectations every time. Even with an outstanding Lean Principle of 6 sigma environment, that means you will not meet expectations 3 times out of every 3.4 million times. It is very good, yes, but it does not necessarily meat expectations.

        The next argument the statement doesn’t meet, is defining their customers. Does the statement mean external customers? Internal Customers? Or their employee customers? Business management often forget that employees are their customers. I am going out on a limb here by saying that a company does not meet at least 70% to 75% of their employee customer’s standards. I think that if someone looks at the correct data regarding this statement, they will find that my data is true. In this case, the whole mission statement can be thrown down the toilet because most companies do not meet these customer’s standards.

        I would say the reason why companies write mission statements as they do is because they do not want to be held accountable. Imagine a statement that says. “We take pride in providing our employees with wages of at least 50% over the national average for every position, while working them at 40 hours maximum per week.” Now, that tells me they care about their employees and can be called on it very easily. I would definitely buy that companies product, even if it costs more, because they care about the people in their communities. Even beyond this, I would be saying that this will eliminate my tax burden immensely because I know those workers will not be needing their wages to be supplemented by the government.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *