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Getting a boss to communicate better

Do you have any suggestions for improving senior leaders’ communication? While communication within my team is good, I want to encourage improved communication on the part of my agency’s senior leaders. -Federal manager, Department of the Army

To start, find a senior leader – particularly one in your chain of command – to share your observations with and also offer your help. Keep in mind that your goal is to find a senior leader who will take your advice further up the chain, and be an advocate who will encourage further action by you.

I’ve seen federal employees achieve great success on issues like improving communication, simply by starting a conversation. For example, a group of newer Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees spoke with some of their senior leaders about their professional development needs, and they eventually received the green light to launch the EPA’s Emerging Leaders Network – an employee organization that provides networking and professional development opportunities for the next generation of EPA leaders. After about five years of existence, the group now includes nearly 300 EPA employees from across the country.

The EPA example leads me to another point – enlist others in your cause wherever possible. A lone voice may be needed to initiate a conversation, but a team of people is often needed to start a movement. Talk with others in your agency network. If others are similarly frustrated, hold a brainstorm over lunch to discuss avenues for improved communication such as town halls, weekly emails or internal senior leaders’ blogs and strategies for implementation. The old cliché is true – there’s strength in numbers.

Whatever your approach, I give you credit for identifying the problem and looking for solutions. It’s likely that your first effort – whether it’s an online suggestion or a conversation with a leader – may not go entirely as planned. That’s okay. Stick with it until you find an approach that works.

More from On Leadership:

Tom Vilsack on growing into politics

Are you listening to me, boss?

Woes of the recently promoted

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.


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