Communication For Leaders (Lisa Danforth)

Lisa Danforth

For this piece, Christine Gritmon interviewed Lisa Danforth about how leaders can improve organizational communication.

In order to set up good communication at all levels that gets everyone on the team facing the same direction and speaking a common language, we first need to understand: what is the culture that we want to have in our organization?

Common language

It starts with ourselves: what is the common language that we want? And what are the UGRs, the unwritten ground rules, that we no longer want?

The common language might be, “Yes, I want you to do this,” but the UGR might be, “…but you don’t really have to, because there’s going to be absolutely no follow-through on my part.”

To have that common language, invite people to the conversation. Be the boots on the ground; don’t just delegate. Get out, connect with your people: ask them what they want, what’s working, what’s not working. Having that communication as a team creates a common language.

As a leader of that team, you need to be the thermostat, not the thermometer. The thermometer fluctuates; the thermostat sets the temperature. As the leader, you’re setting the temperature for the team, you’re setting the temperature for the language, and you’re setting the temperature for accountability.

Psychological safety

When we’re leading and we just start barking out orders, it doesn’t inspire people to step forward. We need to build psychological safety, which creates more creativity and allows people to explore.

How do we create that psychological safety? It starts with getting clear on what we want. What is the culture that we specifically want, as the leader, as the owner? Invite the team into that conversation. Let people know that you see them, you hear them; listen with the intent to understand your team, not just to be understood.

Let people know that they have the ability to try something new and fail. Create that common language of, “It’s okay if you fail, as long as we learn from it, and we try.”

Really connect with your people; learn if their mother is sick. If you want your people to show up fully and not just show up clocking in, that you want them to be there and be creative, make the effort to truly see them. Only then can you really start creating that safety where people genuinely know that if they’re struggling or need additional support, they have the opportunity to come to you.


When we hand off actions to our team members, it takes them off the accountability piece. So we want them to actually have some skin in the game and be able to contribute to what their brilliance is. You want to hire someone that is good at what they do so that you can trust them to get it done instead of micromanaging them.

When we’re holding our people accountable, there’s that common language that actually inspires them to step forward. And it’s not letting people off the hook, it’s not being aggressive–but it is actually saying, “I trust that you have the ability to do the work.”

Create a culture of transparency. Set expectations, be clear in expectations, follow up on expectations, trust in your team members and let them know that you trust in them, that they have the ability. Give everyone the ability to say, “OK, if this is my part in how we as a team are going to achieve our goals, here’s what I feel that I need to be able to do in order to achieve it.”

One Thing

I’m a certified One Thing facilitator. You map out the year: these are the goals for the year, this is what I’m focusing on for the month, and this is what I’m focusing on for the week that drives the month that drives the year.

The common language for me is always, “I’m working on my one thing.” Letting people know, “Hey, I’m doing my priority right now; I’m going off Slack,” so that they understand you’re working on your priority. And they understand, again, if there’s that common language that everyone has agreed upon, when everyone says “I’m working on my one thing, please don’t ping me for the next 30 minutes, three hours or whatever it may be,” that everyone is on the same page.

What I do with my team and I also do with other people is to have them set up what’s called a 411. That’s a common language when you’re sitting down and saying, “OK, what did you commit to? Where did the ball drop? Where do you need support? What are you committing to next week?”


Everything that I talk about is very simple. We make things way too hard.

The problem is that it’s not necessarily easy. If we have a culture or an environment and there isn’t safety, it’s not what we want, and we are going 110 miles an hour, we don’t feel like we have the luxury to slow down and start changing direction. That’s where it all comes back to the pause.

Is what we’re doing working? Invite your people to that conversation. Have a monthly check-in: what worked, what didn’t work. Where do we need to double down on what’s working? What are we doing that is consistently working? What are we doing that’s working that we’re doing inconsistently? What are we consistently doing that’s not working?

Have your team on board discussing it, and create psychological safety by reinforcing each week or each month at those meetings that they can show up and say, “Hey, I think we’re doing this–we could do it much more effectively,”

or, “Hey, I think this would be a great product to bring in,” and allow that person to explore it and allow the conversation to be had.

It’s who you are being–it is not what you are doing.

Lisa Danforth @lisa
I’m a business growth strategist and leadership coach.
I help people get clear on the life they want to live and the business or career that will sustain it, not consume it.

Tell Us Below:

What kinds of open communication channels and opportunities have you set up within your team?

1 Like

I have had SUCH radically different levels of communication in different departments I’ve been a part of over the past two decades… Agorapulse has the best structure for it I’ve seen because it’s also my first fully remote workforce, and communication is definitely what makes that work.

1 Like

Communication is the foundation for all relationships, @christine! What a treat it must be to work in an organization that values its people and walks their talk.

1 Like