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Tracey Davison

Mindstrong Ltd

Client Relationship Manager

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Why are People Unable to Talk to their Leaders?


I have just read some alarming new research from The Ken Blanchard Group regarding the relationship between leaders and their teams.  The research found that whilst 64% of people wish they could talk to their boss about problems with their colleagues, only 8% actually do.  In addition, a massive 81% feel their leaders don't listen, only 34% meet with their leader once a week and 28% never (that's NEVER!) discuss future goals.
So what's going on, why do people feel unable to talk to their leaders and what should leaders be doing to address this?

Making time for your people is a critical part of being a leader, but availability is not just about making yourself physically available, it's about setting aside time for your people on a regular basis; showing them you care about them and how they're getting on.  Research shows us that those who feel valued and appreciated at work are happier in their jobs and perform at a higher level, so making your people feel valued will not only make them happier at work, but will heighten their effectiveness.  The increase in remote working means there is a particular need for leaders to forge strong relationships with their people, so they're able to communicate effectively even when they can't meet face to face.

Most of us have had to work with an unapproachable leader at some time.  These leaders may be present in the physical sense, but make themselves unapproachable in a kind of 'do not disturb' way and it can be as simple as just keeping their door closed.  If you sit in an office with the door closed all day, every day, you're sending out a message that you don't want to be disturbed.  It is easy for leaders to give off an air of 'do not disturb', without even being aware they're doing so, perhaps because they're 'too busy' or dealing with bigger issues.
Just as unapproachable are the leaders who we think will be unable to understand, or empathise with us.  As a leader you can have a very different outlook and approach to life as that of the members of your team, but you must be able to put yourself in their shoes.  This 'Emotional Intelligence' is now regarded by many as being the most important quality in a leader, but also as being the hardest to impart.
Leaders need to understand that this is about perception; you might not think that by keeping your office door closed or making it clear how very busy you are would be reasons for your team not to approach you, but they may well do.  Working on self-awareness (through coaching or 360 Assessments) will help leaders to understand how their words and actions are perceived by others.   

Some leaders, quite simply are not interested.  There are still a few (although admittedly not as many as there were ten years ago) who just expect you to get on with the job and sort out your own problems.  These people tend to have very poor relationships with their teams and therefore little communication beyond the issuing of instructions.  These people should NOT be leaders.
Leaders should be open and inviting and show a genuine, not forced (it will be obvious) interest in their people and their lives, both in and outside of work.

People lose (or fail to develop) trust in a leader for a number of reasons, usually based on past experiences: the leader may have failed to follow-through on commitments and promises, or regularly fails to hold people to account for their actions, perhaps they have betrayed a confidence or simply did nothing when something was required.  To confide in someone about a concern is to make yourself vulnerable, to take a risk and people generally do not take risks when they are not confident of achieving a positive outcome.  To gain the trust of their team, leaders need to demonstrate integrity and reliability, to hold them selves and others to account and to actively listen to their team.

The statistics presented in the Blanchard research reveal that there is still much to be done when it comes to developing our future leaders.  We need to acknowledge the impact of workplace happiness on workplace effectiveness and on general health and well-being and ensure that we have leaders in place who are able to execute this emotionally intelligent style of leadership.

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Tracey Davison

Client Relationship Manager

Read more from Tracey Davison

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