Communicate Like a Leader

Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

Dianna Booher (Author)

Publication date: 06/05/2017

Communicate Like a Leader
When it comes to leading, there is a critical difference between communicating as a boss and communicating as a bully. Celebrated communicator Dianna Booher explains why a leader s success depends on knowing how to communicate strategically with audiences in an organization at their level of interest and relevancy.Draw Them In, Don't Drive Them Away!

People often get promoted to leadership positions without knowing how to communicate an inspiring strategic vision to the people who report to them. So they focus on what they know: tactics, not strategy. As a result, they become stuck in micromanagement mode.

Dianna Booher wants to prevent micromanagement
before it happens by providing you with the right leadership communication skills. Grounded in extensive research, this book offers practical guidelines to help professionals think, coach, converse, speak, write, meet, and negotiate strategically to deliver results. In thirty-six brief chapters, Booher shows you how to communicate effectively to audiences up and down the organization so you can fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader.

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When it comes to leading, there is a critical difference between communicating as a boss and communicating as a bully. Celebrated communicator Dianna Booher explains why a leader s success depends on knowing how to communicate strategically with audiences in an organization at their level of interest and relevancy.Draw Them In, Don't Drive Them Away!

People often get promoted to leadership positions without knowing how to communicate an inspiring strategic vision to the people who report to them. So they focus on what they know: tactics, not strategy. As a result, they become stuck in micromanagement mode.

Dianna Booher wants to prevent micromanagement
before it happens by providing you with the right leadership communication skills. Grounded in extensive research, this book offers practical guidelines to help professionals think, coach, converse, speak, write, meet, and negotiate strategically to deliver results. In thirty-six brief chapters, Booher shows you how to communicate effectively to audiences up and down the organization so you can fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader.

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Meet the Author

Visit Author Page - Dianna Booher

Dianna Booher works with organizations to help them communicate clearly and with individuals to increase their influence and impact by a strong executive presence.

She is the bestselling author of 47 books, published in 60 foreign-language editions. Her latest books include these:

--Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler)

--What MORE Can I Say: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It (Penguin Random House)

--Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader (Berrett-Koehler)

--Communicate With Confidence: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time (McGraw-Hill)

National media such as Good Morning America, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily,, Fast Company, CNN, NPR, Bloomberg, Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues.

She’s the founder of two communication training companies: Booher Consultants and currently CEO of Booher Research Institute.

Dianna has been earned some of the highest awards and distinctions in the speaking, human capital, and publishing industries:

  • Speaker Hall of Fame  (induction by the National Speakers Association)
  • “21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century” by Successful Meetings magazine
  • “Top Leadership 500” by Leadership Excellence magazine
  • “Top 100 Minds on Personal Development” by Personal Excellence magazine
  •  “Top 30 Global Communication Gurus”
  • “Top 100 Thought Leaders in America” by Leadership Excellence magazine
  • “Best of the Best: Top 25 Business Books of the Decade” by Executive Soundview Summaries
  • Richtopia's 2017 "Top 200 Most Influential Authors in the World"

Clients include IBM, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Pepsico, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, JPMorgan Chase, Department of the Navy, NASA, and more than one-third of the Fortune 500. She has spoken at international conferences on six continents.  817-283-2333.

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Table of Contents


Introduction The challenge of leadership communication I
Part 1
Strategic Leadership
Think Long-term investment in people and payoff

chapter 1 Communicating as a leader and as a manager 11
chapter 2 have a ready answer for THIS one key question-- always 15
chapter 3 Make sure the team knows the deliverables 18
chapter 4 Build a Culture of Trust
chapter 5 Hire Based on Core Character and Competency
chapter 6 Nix Micromanaging and Other Negatives
chapter 7
Squelch the Urge to Hoard 36

chapter 8
Guide With Strategic Questions 39
chapter 9
Dislodge Log-Jamming Directives 42
chapter 10
Become a Coach, Not a Critic 45
chapter 11 Give Kudos That Count 49
chapter 12
Fire People to Be Fair 52
chapter 13 Energize Rather Than Demoralize 56
chapter 14
Course-Correct Quickly After Bad Decisions 60
chapter 15
Develop Your People 64
Connect With Intent
chapter 16 Be Intentional About Your Communication Standards 73
chapter 17 Be a Leader Who Laughs 78

chapter 18
Respond Promptly in the Age of Twitter 83
chapter 19
Learn to Apologize or Pay the Penalty 86
chapter 20
Keep Your Networks Active 89
Look for Mutual Opportunities
chapter 21 Determine Your Goals, Value, and Walk-Away Point 97
chapter 22 Adopt Strategic Negotiation Practices 101
chapter 23
Aim to Do the Second Deal 105
Persuade Minds and Win Hearts
chapter 24 Increase Your Executive Presence 111
chapter 25
Dump Your Data to a Storyline 117
chapter 26 Engage With Great Stories 121
chapter 27 Be Brief or Be Dismissed 128
chapter 28 Prepare for Off-the-Cuff Comments 131
Write to the Point
chapter 29 Let Them See How You Think 137

chapter 30
Trust the TA-DA TemplateTM 142

chapter 31
Use Social Media Strategically—Don't Spray Paint 146
Deliver Results When You Meet
chapter 32 Consider a Meeting Before the Meeting 155
chapter 33
Plug Power Into Your Agenda 157

chapter 34
Make Little Meeting Matters a Big Deal 160
chapter 35
Meet Like You Mean Business 164
chapter 36 Know Your Meeting ROI 169

Next Steps
Notes 175
Acknowledgments 179
Bibliography 177
Index 181
About the Author 189
How to Work With Dianna Booher and Booher Research

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Communicate Like a Leader


The Challenge of Leadership Communication

Without strategy, execution is aimless.
Without execution, strategy is useless.


Just what you don’t want to find in your inbox on a Monday morning: A resignation letter from an excellent employee. No reason given and no mention of another job offer. I called Rachel in to ask for an explanation.

“I just can’t take it anymore.” She started to tear up.

“Take what?” I asked. She worked in another wing of our building, and I was indeed clueless about why the marketing specialist was so unhappy in her job.

“I just can’t work for him anymore.” I did at least know the “him” she reported to as her supervisor. “I get a big knot in my stomach every morning before I come to work. Really physically sick. My husband has been trying to get me to resign for months. July has been terrible. Wally hasn’t spoken to me all month. Walks right past my desk every morning. Goes to lunch right past my desk every day. Doesn’t say a word.”

“I’m sorry to hear this.”

“He’s always angry about something he thinks I didn’t do right. I never know exactly what. He just completely ignores me.”

“How do you know he’s angry at you?”

“Because when he is speaking, he’s cross-examining me. He doesn’t trust me. Every time I leave my desk for fifteen minutes, when I get back, it’s, ‘Where have you been?’ ‘Why did that take so long?’ And after I hang up the phone, it’s, ‘Who was that?’ ‘What did you tell them?’ I’ve never given him any reason not to trust me. He’s just always looking over my shoulder, double-checking everything. And I learned to handle the client calls from listening to him!” She started to tear up again.

“I’m sorry. I had no idea this was happening.”

Rachel had been a quick learner, picking up pointers from all our star performers in and out of the office. Consequently, she’d been able to take on more responsibility than her original job entailed.

“One day he’s talking to me about his family, and my family, movies—like we’re best friends. And the next day, he’s treating me like I can’t be trusted.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“A year.”


“People don’t leave an organization; they leave a boss” has become a truism in the workplace for good reason. Emotional instability, for whatever reason, can infect the workplace and lower productivity as surely as malfunctioning equipment. Often, the person causing the retention problem has moved from buddy to bully without intending ill will. It just “happens.” That boss got promoted from supervisor to manager or from manager to senior executive without adequate leadership and communication skills for the job. As a result, the boss gets stuck in micromanagement mode.

If that person happens to be you, this book will help you get unstuck. These strategic communication skills, attitudes, and mindsets separate those

•  Professionals who succeed at the executive level from those who don’t

•  Star sales professionals breaking through barriers and exceeding quotas from those living paycheck to paycheck

•  Millennials tagged as “high-potentials” from those labeled average performers

•  Entrepreneurs who succeed wildly from those who barely eke out a living

The most visible difference in each of these situations is a person’s ability to communicate vision, initiatives, assignments, ideas, and strategy to audiences at all levels in various settings.


Strategic communication forms the very core of leadership. When you as a leader speak, meet, negotiate, write, or network, you either clarify or confuse, motivate or demoralize, engage or enrage employees. And they, in return, will either give 110 percent of their loyalty, support, and skill to accomplish your mission—or disengage, divert your focus, and drain your energy in dealing with them.

The dictionary defines strategic as “pivotal,” “essential,” or “relating to long-term importance to achieve a plan or goal.” That’s how I’ll be using “strategic” going forward in this book: those messages, meetings, conversations, discussions, or presentations that have pivotal, long-term payoff versus “routine” communication.

Back to Rachel’s situation. Fortunately, my company did get Rachel’s situation corrected by changing her reporting relationship and getting counseling for her supervisor, and she did stay with us. But similar problems occur daily in the workforce. Such situations become a crisis for all involved for these reasons:

•  Micromanaged employees work and live under undue stress that often leads to job loss—either by their choice or by termination.

•  Micromanagers become less and less productive under a heavier and heavier workload because they do their own regular job—and then take on the jobs of those they supervise.

•  Organizations lose some of their best employees and grow less productive and profitable because professionals who get promoted for their technical skills do not learn the strategic communication skills necessary to succeed in their new leadership role.

We’ll discuss several reasons for micromanagement and how to overcome it later in the book. But for now, my point is that fewer and fewer professionals arrive at their position with all the leadership communication skills they need to master the job.

In a recent Wall Street Journal survey of nearly 900 executives, 92 percent said soft skills were equally or more important than technical skills. But 89 percent reported that they had a very or somewhat difficult time finding people with those attributes. And they say the problem spans all age groups and experience levels. 1


As Cool Hand Luke famously said in the movie by the same name, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” To paraphrase his observation: What we have here is a failure to translate to the strategic message for groups at different levels in your organization.

For example, let’s say your daughter Jordan has won first place in the school district’s ninth-grade science fair, and you’re proud of her research for that innovative project. You tell the grandparents about the big win, and they’re thrilled as well. Assume you have a family reunion the following month with more than 100 cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws attending. Tell them about the same science project, and you’ll probably find them less interested than Jordan’s grandparents. After all, the aunts, uncles, and cousins have kids involved in science projects of their own.

Then let’s assume you have an industry meeting the next week, and you tell that group about Jordan’s science project. How interested will they be? And how interested will your seatmate on your cross-country flight be when you tell him about the science project? Unless you share a profound lesson learned about volunteerism or fund-raising success that applies to professional associations or to your seatmate’s company, your listener will probably care a great deal less than the grandparents.

The further removed the link to your child, the less the listener cares about your news—and the greater skill you’ll need to find a worthwhile idea to share from the science project. In other words, your ability to take an experience from one context and reapply it in a larger context to a different audience with wider interests represents strategic insight and communication.

We intuitively understand this need to translate in personal situations. But many leaders fail to “get it” in the workplace. In doing presentation coaching, I can’t tell you how often managers have told me about trying to give the same presentation to several different audiences and levels of management—and failing.


Whether you’re in marketing, sales, operations, finance, research, IT, legal, or human resources, tactical thinkers communicate directives to get things done. They decide who does what when. Unfortunately, the tactical things that get done may not always be the wisest things or the most profitable things with long-term payoff. Tactical thinking is critical—but common.

Still, strategic thinkers stand out from the crowd. Big-picture thinking uniquely positions you as the resource for focus, problem analysis, and innovation.

But strategic thinking puts points on the scoreboard only if you can communicate your thinking clearly. And the more respect your thinking earns—that is, the more visibility you get—the more often you’ll need to communicate your thinking up, down, and across the organization.

This book offers help as you think and communicate strategically to fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader. Its 36 brief chapters fall into six distinct categories—a suite of leadership communication skills.

•  People Development (hiring, firing, assigning, directing, coaching)

•  Conversations

•  Negotiations

•  Speaking

•  Writing

•  Meetings

Why leadership communication? Because communication comprises the essence of influencing a team to accomplish a mission. The book is NOT intended to be a comprehensive, all-purpose management or leadership book. Neither does this volume focus on general interpersonal skills. My earlier book Communicate With Confidence: How to Say It Right the First Time and Every Time contains more than 1,200 tips to improve interpersonal communication in myriad situations at work, home, and elsewhere.

Rather, this book focuses specifically on those relationships, situations, and decisions you face because of your position and responsibility as a leader. Recall that strategic refers to something essential or pivotal for the long term. In that sense, the degree to which you can communicate strategically in every interaction will determine your ultimate success with peers, staff, clients, suppliers, and your own executive team.

Tactical thinkers get things done. Strategic thinkers get the right things done. Tactical communicators tell others how to get things done. Strategic communicators lead others to get the right things done. They

—  Cast the vision, chart the course, and “go first” to lead the way and set the example

—  Communicate up and down the chain of command and across department lines to make sure all stakeholders understand the big-picture impact

—  Network strategically to connect and involve the right people for input and participation—and then negotiate for mutual benefit

—  Speak persuasively, write clearly, and conduct meetings that deliver results

Consequently, strategic thinkers and communicators typically end up in the executive ranks of large organizations or build their own entrepreneurial business. Whatever your plans, strategic communication will be the smoothest, most direct route to success.

Communicate Like a Leader


Communicating as a Leader and as a Manager

The people who influence you are the people who believe in you.


When my client Mitch visited our office, he had both good news and bad news. “Let me give you the good news first. . . . A couple of partners and I just bought a telecom at a great price—basically a spin-off of the entire division I used to manage.”

“That is great news.” I followed up with several questions and learned that the spin-off he referred to was from a nationally known company that had downsized his entire division.

“The downsizing didn’t sound exactly like good news at the time,” Mitch continued. “But it has turned out that way. That is, if we can make a go of this telecom venture.”

“Well, I’d say you’re off to a good start. Everything sounds like good news so far,” I said.

“Right. . . . Well, here’s the bad news: I’ve placed about 40 to 45 technical experts in leadership roles. Brilliant at their individual jobs—don’t get me wrong. But they’ve had only limited experience as managers. At best, they were supervisors at their old jobs. . . . They have the technical know-how. But now they need to communicate with their peers in other areas, deal with customers and suppliers, and interact with the executive leaders on the new team.”

I nodded, not wanting to interrupt to tell him how common his story sounded.

“They’re communicating at about this level,” Mitch gestured with a wave of his hand about mid-thigh, as if measuring the height of a small child, “and I need them to start thinking and communicating from this perspective.” He repeated the gesture at hairline level.

Our communication consulting firm hears this complaint frequently regarding how staff members deliver executive briefings and write sales proposals.

“If I can give you these people for a few days, can you teach them what they need to know to become real leaders—not just good in their functional roles?”

Music to my ears. I always love hearing someone voice the difference between managing (maintaining the status quo) and leading (improving the status quo).

You may hire a financial advisor to “manage” your money during a great bull market. He or she may help you reorganize your investments: consolidate your accounts from two different organizations into one bank account, project your future income needs for a child’s education or your own retirement, and consolidate your mutual fund investments into fewer families of funds. But after a year, if that person is not increasing the value of your investment portfolio, you’ll probably be looking for a new financial advisor. You want someone who can improve the situation, not simply maintain it.

That distinction between leader and manager may have absolutely nothing to do with position or title. You can lead as a project team member, an association member, a parent, a researcher, a customer, or an assistant.

Consider the nine differences between leaders and maintainers in the following chart.


As you plan strategic communication—whether for a conversation, a briefing, a report, a meeting, or an email—keep in mind these principles: The right timing. A clear conclusion. Specific application to your audience. Simple, tactful, concerned phrasing. The why behind the decision or action. Inspiration. The right thing to do. We’ll dig deeper into all these principles as we move further through the book.

Image The manager’s goal: Smooth, flawless operations.

Image The leader’s goal: Improve the situation. “Up” the game or performance. Increase the value or asset.

Communicate Like a Leader


Have a Ready Answer for THIS One Key Question—Always

Like a diaphanous nightgown, language both hides and reveals.


As a leader, you hear questions every day, some serious, some trivial. “What do you hear about the merger plans?” “Do you think our budget is going to be cut?” “Can we get an extension on the deadline?” “Are we going to have to work over the weekend?”

But the ONE question that you have to answer correctly every time is this: “What are you working on?”

It’s particularly critical that you get the answer right when responding to your boss. Your reputation can also suffer when you flub that question with peers.


For the most part, you and your team need to communicate details to run your project, department, or division. For that, you need charts, graphs, slides, spreadsheets, meetings, presentations, proposals, metrics, and reports. You accomplish things with these tools, and the associated data make perfect sense to you. The abbreviations, acronyms, illustrations, and other shortcuts save you time and ensure a common understanding.

So you have a tendency to try to communicate with the same tools and in that same fashion to those outside your functional area.

But don’t.

That jargon, those communication tools, and that level of detail won’t make sense to people on the outside. They’ll likely conclude that you don’t know how to synthesize, summarize, and interpret how your work contributes to the big picture of the organization.

Granted, habits are difficult to break. But they can hinder communication and halt your career growth.


Put aside your complicated tools. Forget how much effort you’ve put into the project. Time spent does not equal value created. Instead, focus on these few things to answer the big question:

Part 1:  We’re working on solving X problem(s).

Part 2:  Here’s why it matters to the organization. . . .

Part 3:  Here are the outcomes we’re working toward. . . .

Part 4:  (Optional—depending on who asked the question)
This is how the work may affect the budget and timeline as far as you’re concerned. . . .


You shouldn’t and you don’t.

If you do, you’ll be irrelevant. While coaching sales teams on presentations or sales proposals, I frequently hear such comments as “We have to educate our customers on our product” or “Our customers really don’t understand how best to use our process and the services we provide, so our real challenge is to educate them on exactly what we do.”

I have to bite my tongue to keep from shouting, “How insulting to your customers!” That’s like saying, “We need smarter customers.” Very few customers will likely agree with you on that.

Ditto with internal customers. They don’t want to be “educated” about what you’re doing. They want you to be educated about what they’re doing and then translate what you’re doing for them. In other words, get aboard their train.


Become a translator: “So what that means for you (for the organization, for our customers, for our partners, for our suppliers) is that . . .”

Sift through and analyze the metrics, data, and details needed for your functional role. Then draw some conclusions about the bigger picture: How does your work benefit them? Their budget? Their deadlines? Their costs? Their savings? Their profits? Their processes? Make their work easier? But never pass on your raw information.

Instead, communicate clearly an answer to this ONE question: “What are you working on?” And if your answer is strategic (relevant, tailored, and timely), the listener will care.

That’s relevancy. And staying relevant is a leader’s strategic responsibility.

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“If you're a micromanager, you need to know it's not just ineffective—it's also the most labor-intensive leadership style. When you read Communicate like a Leader, you'll learn strategic communication skills that will improve your relationship with your people and actually make leading easier. Dianna Booher is the communication guru of the 21st century!”
Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The New One Minute Manager and One Minute Mentoring

“Great leaders are great communicators, as Dianna Booher points out in this smart, useful book. If you want to become a top-notch strategic communicator, you'd do well to heed the advice in its pages.”
Marshall Goldsmith, executive coach, business educator, New York Times bestselling author, and Thinkers50 #1 leadership thinker in the world

“Dianna Booher's brilliant new book, Communicate like a Leader, is the single-best communication guide I have ever read. In it are thirty-six clear, concise, relevant, and practical bits of strategic advice on how to connect with others. No fluff. No wasted words. All substance. I guarantee you that there is something in this book that you can use immediately—and more that you can apply tomorrow and the next day and the next. Buy this right now, read it as soon as you get it, and then put Dianna's expert advice to work for you. You will be very glad that you did.”
Jim Kouzes, coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge and Dean's Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University

“Everything they didn't teach you at Harvard Business School—but should have—about leadership communication in the real world of work.”
John Addison, bestselling author; Leadership Editor, Success magazine; and CEO, Addison Leadership Group

“More than a mere treatise on communication, this is an extremely practical and actionable book about becoming a better leader. It happens that leaders do their work by communicating, and Booher provides valuable tactics to use in a wide variety of circumstances. Every reader is guaranteed to take away some useful practices.”
Jack Zenger, CEO, Zenger Folkman, and bestselling coauthor of The Extraordinary Leader and Speed

“Dianna Booher has done it once again. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking clear, practical, and actionable advice.”
Catherine Blades, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Aflac Inc.

Great leaders have one thing in common: they are all great communicators. They have discovered how to convert their keen awareness into ideas that speak to one's emotions and ambitions. They understand that if their message does not take deep root, it will likely make little difference in shaping outcomes. In her newest book,
Communicate like a Leader, Dianna Booher calls upon her vast body of work to create an inspirational playbook for leaders in pursuit of excellence. A must-read for people seeking to propel their career.”
Bill Yancey, Managing Director, Operations, Hilltop Securities Inc.

“Communication and leadership are critical for all success. Dianna Booher is an expert on both fronts and an author of forty-seven books! Learn from her wisdom. Buy this book, read this book, and learn from the very best—I do!”
Dr. Peter Legge, OBC, CSP, CPAE Hall of Fame, CEO and Chairman, Canada Wide Media Limited

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Have information, facts, or skills. They may even show mastery of a craft, job, or topic.

Have superior reasoning skills and judgment. They know how to apply their information, the facts, or their skills to a specific situation at the right time, in the right way, for the best outcome for all concerned.

Often try to lead people from the simple to the complex.

Most often try to break the complex down to the simple.

Take things apart to analyze.

Put things together to conclude and apply.

Like to do things their way. They tend to place great trust in their own expertise and control. Their thinking seems to follow the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Like to get input from several trusted sources. They listen with an open mind and weigh facts and ideas before rushing to accept or reject these ideas as valid.

Know when to be abstract to avoid offense, blame, or questions.

Know when an ounce of concrete and specificity is worth a ton of abstraction.

Communicate directly and frequently. These communication habits ensure control of processes and people.

Communicate directly, frequently, consistently, tactfully, and compassionately. These communication habits demonstrate passion, engagement, and concern.

Practice self-discipline and expect their staff to do the same.

Understand why they practice self-discipline and inspire their staff to do the same.

Do things right.

Do the right things.

Always know how to do things.

Always know why to do things.