Leadership Attributes Which Promote Open, Honest Communication in Your Business

‘You don’t listen! You lead from “my way or the highway”. People don’t come and tell you anything because they know they’ll be dismissed or ignored!’

That was Rose, a colleague of mine from over 30 years ago.

The moment I heard those words, I felt everything go silent except for the blood pounding in my ears. I had to take a deep breath to recognise that she had held a mirror up to my face and I wasn’t liking what I saw.

My initial reaction was to defend and offend. Luckily, I came to my senses quick enough to realise the courage she’d displayed in confronting me about my behaviour. After all, no one wants to get on the wrong side of their boss.

I’ll always remember that as a pivotal moment that had me considering whether I was the reason my people never told me anything.

We’ve talked extensively about the detrimental impact that a lack of honest dialogue has on a business. What we’ve got to consider now is the types of leadership attributes that can encourage people to come out of the shadows and feel safe to speak up.

In my experience, effective leaders who promote open communication all display these 7 characteristics:

  1. Vulnerability
  2. Empathy
  3. Availability
  4. Ability to listen
  5. Consistent and predictable
  6. Reliable and responsible
  7. Clear about personal values

These attributes not only invite honesty, they also signal that being truthful is the way we do things around here. This solidifies a culture of openness and candidness in communication.

Let’s deep dive into a few of these characteristics.


Many incorrectly assume that vulnerability is a sign of weakness.

It’s not.

Vulnerability is the pre-cursor to courage and, as Brene Brown says, courage is at the heart of being an effective leader.

People rally around leaders who show vulnerability – I’ve seen it time and time again with our clients. Exposing your weaknesses levels out the playing field by demonstrating that it’s okay not to be right all the time. Vulnerability draws people closer and has your people feeling like you’re ‘one of them’.

DO: Sit with your vulnerability. If you’re a know-it-all who is always rushing to speak, when you feel you want to answer any questions, pause and ask the other person, ‘What do you think?’ Wait patiently for their response. If their reply matches with what you wanted to say, then great! If they’re completely off, ask ‘What makes you say this? Walk me through your thinking process’.

Showing curiosity and allowing others to drive the conversation makes you a more approachable leader and it gives room for new innovative solutions to surface.

By the way, vulnerability works both ways. The most successful leaders I know can be vulnerable to their people and themselves.

We often talk about Cleaning Up our Internal Fightat Integrity and Values. Leaders with the emotional maturity to understand their internal fears are better at finding ways to turn their weaknesses into a strength.

It’s confronting work at first. However, the path to becoming a successful leader demands the courage to combat the discouraging and often false stories we tell ourselves.

The moment leaders can sit with their own vulnerabilities and accept that they are humans just like the rest of us, faults and all, that’s when they can start prioritising robust conversations in their business.


Empathy is an essential component of having robust conversations. As we’ve mentioned in our Empathy vs Sympathy webinar, being able to identify the difference between the two frees us up to listen to our people at a whole new level.

If we listen through our own judgements and assessments, then we miss the gold.

I’ll share that I tend to catastrophise when my people give me feedback. This happened recently when a new colleague told me things that were difficult to hear. What I’ve learnt over the years is to not shoot the messenger and, instead, listen and learn with empathy.

DO: To start an empathy-driven conversation, use our Three C’s formula.

Step 1: Ask people what they’re really worried about when they complain. If silence is deeply entrenched in your culture, reassure them that you’d like to hear their thoughts and see how you can assist

Step 2: Flesh out the fears that sit underneath their concerns

Step 3: Most people fear not being able to deliver on work commitments. Work out which of their responsibilities is troubling them

Once you discover the root cause, leaders can coach their people through their fears and create a plan that will enable them to deliver.

Leadership is Learnt

Not everyone has a Rose in their business who’s courageous enough to call us out on our own BS[. It takes true self-awareness to acknowledge that some of our personal leadership traits have pushed people against the wall and kept them silent.

Developing new behaviours isn’t a quick process and the outcomes of a more robust organisation is well worth your dedication.

Contact us today and learn how you can encourage your people to speak up when it matters the most.

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