“If you ever find yourself trying to read me, stop it.  I am not intentionally being vague.  I am just being a bad communicator at that moment.”  This statement became part of my introduction to people joining my team.

Most people reacted to that statement in two ways. Some seemed relieved.  Some were confused.  Whether it was relief or confusion, both reactions were the result of working on teams where they spent too much time trying to figure out their boss.

Get Rid Of Vague Communications

Imagine a workplace where no one spent time trying to read between the lines.  Imagine a boss that spoke with clarity and encouraged clarifying questions.  That was the type of team I wanted to create.  (Imagine a family like that….)

It’s About Trust

A leader who leaves people guessing at the leader’s motives or expectations is hard to trust.  Think about it.  Is it easy to trust someone when you don’t understand them?

So what prevents leaders from speaking clearly?  It  usually boils down to three issues:

Fear, Pride and/or Laziness

Fear-They are not sure what they stand for.

Too many leaders are wishy-washy.  Too many change their values and priorities with the wind.  We must all take the time to figure these things out and then hold to them tenaciously.

I need to know what’s important to me.  If I am not sure of the values I want my team to have or what priorities they should embrace, then how can I communicate clearly? Click on the following title to read more about knowing what you stand for:    Values – What Do You Stand For?

Pride – They are unwilling to confront or be confronted.

Too often leaders offer up vague direction or answers because their pride does not allow them to make a stand.  They are afraid they might be wrong.

Some leaders vilify people who ask them clarifying questions when they do not understand. They can’t stand the idea they might be wrong.

Pride and insecurity are often two sides of the same coin.

I encouraged my people to ask clarifying questions if they were unclear about anything I said.  I am sure I was a poor communicator on certain occasions.  But my goal was not to avoid being challenged.  My goal was to have impact when I spoke.

Laziness – They are not willing to put in the effort.

Speaking with clarity takes effort.  Some people don’t give enough information.  Some people give too much.  And some people communicate in a meandering sort of way.  If a leader does any of these three things, a team is left guessing.

A leader needs to take the time to think through what needs to be remembered and how that it is best communicated.  What are the priorities and what is just fluff?  The time spent preparing the message will often determine whether the message has an impact.

The Bottom Line:

Building trust between the leader and the led requires clear communications.  I always trusted a leader when I knew where I stood and what that leader expected.

Leaders need to speak in black and white terms when it comes to moral and ethical issues.  Not knowing where and when my leader will take a stand will never allow me to trust them.

Who wants to work for someone that they don’t trust.  As a leader, I may be a good person and feel I am trustworthy.  But, that will not matter if my people are unclear about what is important to me. 

The only way I can be sure my team, or my family for that matter, has that type of clarity, is to improve my communications.  I must put fear, pride and laziness aside and strive to be easy to read.


Why do you think leaders are vague in their communications?

Dave Anderson is coauthor of Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).
You can order Becoming a Leader of Character on Amazon by clicking here:
You can also find Becoming a Leader of Character at Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million and other retailers.