3 common communication mistakes leaders make with the C-suite


Published on: December 2021

Written by: Elizabeth Freedman

Are you an Overcompensator, an Expert, or an Assumer?

Chances are if you’re like any of the leaders I’ve worked with over the years, you may have a bit of each of these common communication styles show up in you from time to time when it comes to how you interact with the C-suite. Here’s what I’ve learned. These styles are incredibly easy to see in others and less so in ourselves, and they can interfere with leaders being as good as we can be in front some of our most important audiences. I’ve experienced them all and so have my clients, and the good news is that once you see it in yourself, you can address it.

Here’s a look at three common styles:

1. The Overcompensator

The Overcompensator mantra is this: I want you to know how much we’ve been working on.

You know you’re with an Overcompensator when: In every meeting or presentation, they seem to have an endless amount of activity to report on, with slide after slide that lists initiatives, projects, or updates.

The subtext is this: We have been very busy, we have been putting in tremendous effort, we have been doing lots of things, we are taking [insert important issue in here] very seriously. This tends to show up in board meetings and quarterly business reviews. Overcompensators may be some of your busiest, hardest-working leaders who also overemphasize activity instead of demonstrating results.

If you lead a team of Overcompensators, you might say, “Let’s stop talking about what we are working on and start talking about where we are producing results instead.”

2. The Expert

The Expert’s mantra is this: If I share enough information with you, you’ll see why I’m right.

You know you’re with an Expert when: In every meeting or presentation, they present far more information than you want or need.

You’ll get plenty of details and data, but it may not necessarily help you make a decision or understand the bigger picture, with lots of ‘what’ but not enough ‘so what.’ Experts can be accused of too much talking (particularly when answering questions), being in the weeds, boring the audience, or overpreparing (after all, you never know when you might get asked a tough question).

What Experts can work on: A ‘less is more’ mindset driven by better judgment and discernment, so they include the right information (not all the information) in their messages.

3. The Assumer

The Assumer’s mantra is this: I already understand what you want and need, so let’s move to next steps.

You know you’re with an Assumer when: You feel rushed or sold.

As the name suggests, Assumers tend to make assumptions about their audiences. It’s why they will leave a meeting and think there is agreement to a next step only to be met with silence or inaction. The problem for Assumers is that nobody else necessarily thinks there is a problem to the degree to which they do, nor do they have the commitment yet to solve for it. Assumers can be accused of lacking curiosity, not asking enough questions, or believing the audience has bought in prematurely before that is actually the case.

What Assumers can work on: Proving to themselves and others that their audiences care as much about solving for an issue and addressing a challenge as they do before moving to action.

If you see these styles show up in your team, share this article with them and use it as a jumping off point about what may be interfering with their impact and how to show up differently with high stakes audiences.

In a future post, we’ll look at a few more common styles – the Unknown, the Defender, the Needy.

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