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3 Communication Expectations Every Leader Needs

The Leader's 3-2-1: Three Insights, Two Questions, One Statistic.

Topic: Communicate Your Way to Less Stress

In the nearly three years I've formally offered leadership coaching, many common communication complaints have emerged from leaders like:

  • “This employee won't stop texting me at 8pm.”

  • “This team member consistently stops by unannounced/without a meeting wanting to strategize important initiatives.”

  • “This colleague just barges in and starts venting about other employees.”

At first, these may not seem like big issues. Yet, over time, they take an energetic toll and most clients choose to devote a full session to learning how to handle them better. The result is less stress, energy drain and disconnection.

As we look closer in session, leaders discover they have unexamined and unexpressed communication expectations regarding these types of communication needs. They realize they never actually set clear, explicit expectations for how they want others to engage with them via email, phone, text, drop-ins or complaints.

State clear needs for how your team will interact with you in 3-2-1:

Three Insights

Verbal Communication Expectations

State your needs on how, when, and what times people can expect to communicate with you through verbal communication channels like email, text, slack channels, Microsoft Teams, phone, etc. Then, uphold those expectations through action. For example, when I was a leader in higher education, I needed communication to happen through email, or it would be forgotten and lost. This meant when employees texted me business matters, I responded with a request for them to email me their question or concern. Another common complaint is non-urgent text messages late into the evening. If you've clearly stated your expectation regarding available hours for non-urgent communications, you can choose to set that aside text until morning.


  • What are your preferred channels of communication? What is okay and what is not okay?

  • What are your expected hours of communication availability? What is okay and what is not okay?

  • How will you clearly communicate those expectations? How will you reinforce these expectations through action?

Meeting Expectations

State your needs for when and how people will meet with you, spend direct time with you and request you of your time. Be especially clear about how you feel about a drop-in-- stopping by your office at random without a meeting. If you are okay with drop-ins, be explicit about when it's okay and when it's not okay. Protecting your time will increase your energy, give you more space for your duties, and improve your overall communication because you're less stressed.

Scripts that reinforce meeting or drop-in expectations:

  • “Thank you for stopping by. To give you my best analysis on this, let's set a meeting. Can you look at our calendars and send a meeting invite?”

  • “Thank you for stopping by. This matter is important to me-- can we set a meeting in order to discuss this in detail?”

  • “Thank you for stopping by. I have five minutes now, or I could give you an hour when my schedule frees up this afternoon. Which do you prefer?”

Venting and Complaining Expectations

State your needs for how you will listen to and address complaints. Hearing and resolving issues within the team is an important part of being a supportive leader. However, without a specific process or system for addressing employee challenges, stressors and obstacles, you will quickly become the landing pad for unproductive venting. Sorting out complaints is part of the role, but that doesn't mean you have to bear the burden of others dumping unprocessed emotions on you. Consistent, recurring check-in meetings, whether weekly or semi-monthly, are a great way to stay connected, supportive and coach-like on what challenges employees might be facing on the ground.

Shifting an interaction from venting to productive communication on challenges, stresses or obstacles might look like:

  • Asking questions like: “What do you need? …What does support look like from me? …what do you want to see happen?"

  • ”I would like for you to submit a formal complaint via email and set a meeting with me so we can resolve this. The process for that is…"

  • “I hear your concerns-- thank you for sharing with me. What I need from you is to identify three ideas for solution and we can find a path forward together.”

*Client transformation: I had a client who's hot-tempered employee would chase her down the moment she walked in the door multiple days per week. This client developed the courage to say clearly, but kindly: “[Name], I can't have you bombarding me the moment I walk in the door. What I need from you is to set a meeting or to ask respectfully for my time. I'm happy to work through issues with you, but I cannot be the outlet for your emotions regarding those issues.”

TWo questions

What is your biggest source of frustration in regards to how your team is communicating with you?

What expectations, requests or limits do you need to adjust and make clear? Where have you expressed an expectation, but have yet to reinforce through action? Each individual stressor may not seem like a big deal. But, they add up over time to create a drain on your energy.

What would an overcorrection look like?

What I know about boundaries education: we often get excited to implement what we've learned and can sometimes change our behavior to the point we over-rotate and create the opposite problem. Reflect on what an overcorrection might look like.

One Statistic

40% plus

When in doubt, always over-communicate. Lack of communication can lead to lack of trust: “For over 40% of workers, poor communication reduces trust both in leadership and in their team. Remote workers were more affected, with 54% reporting poor communication impacts trust in leadership and 52% reporting it impacts trust in the team. For on-site workers, poor communication did not impact trust to the same extent, though it still had a big impact: 43% reported trust in leadership was impacted and 38% said trust in their team was affected.”

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