A first time leader's communication with her team

5 Powerful Tips on Communication With Your Team – How Much Boss & How Much Buddy?

What is the best way to communicate with your team? For first-time leaders, it is often a matter of finding a new communication style that suits them in their role. You want to be perceived as approachable and at the same time know that clear communication from your side to the team is important. What to do? This article gives you tips that are not so much about the question if your communication should be more that of a boss or a buddy, but rather when


As always, we start with a few self-coaching questions: 

  • What do the two communication styles “boss” and “buddy” mean to you personally? 
  • In which style do you find it easier to communicate? 
  • What prevents you from feeling comfortable in the other communication style?
  • In which situations do you tend to communicate one way or the other? 
  • Which style is more suited to the needs of your team?

Not if, but when

When does it make long-term sense to apply one or the other communication style and associated mindset? Basically, as a leader you must know when your team needs a clear framework (communication with the “boss hat”) and when it is also important that you as a leader show your human side (communication with the “buddy hat”).

Communication with the boss hat

Whenever you need to give direction or a clear framework for tasks, it makes sense to communicate with the boss hat. And no, you are not automatically perceived as a dictator! Depending on the employee, it may even give clarity to them if they know which clear direction you are aiming for! 

Examples of this could be team meetings. If an initiative comes from the top of the organization, you can discuss with your team: “X and Y are the framework conditions, this is given. However, within this framework, we have a lot of room for our implementation as a team. What ideas do you have on how we can approach this?” 

Another area for communication with the “boss hat” is the topic of giving feedback. If for example, goals have not been achieved by an employee. Tips on how to communicate respectfully yet clearly can be found in this previous post.

You can also put on your “boss hat” when it comes to communication around empowerment. For example, regarding what your team needs from you to perform at their best. “I am happy to support you so that you can generate the best possible output. What can I do for you to have your back?” The important thing here is to take enough time to listen for potentially long answers. So better to ask this question at the beginning of the team meeting than 5 minutes before the end! 

And a final example is the topic of conflict. If you are involved in facilitating conflicts, it is even more important that you remain in an impartial role, even though you may have better personal contact with one person in the conflict. 

Communication with the buddy hat

Whenever it comes to showing your human side, put on the buddy hat in communication.

This can be in conversations, for example, where you want to build trust with empathy and understanding for the personal situation of the employee(s). 

And of course, also in personal conversations over coffee, lunch or after-work drinks with the team. The more you share about yourself as a person (what you did at the weekend, holidays, funny experiences, but also personally difficult situations), the closer your team will feel to you. And yes, humour is also allowed! 

Moving from one hat to the other

Make it clear to your team when you are in which communication style. Sometimes you might be wearing your buddy hat at the (virtual) coffee counter and then you move within seconds to your boss hat announcing the start of the team meeting. Verbalise this calmly in the sense of “So, now I’m putting on my team leader’s hat again and I would like to discuss with you today how we are going to deal with the request from department X”. Explicitly addressing your different communication hats gives your team clarity and often brings something playful even to difficult situations.


As a first-time leader, it is good to have both communication styles in your repertoire. It’s about neither shying away from sharing personal things for fear of showing vulnerability, nor avoiding taking a clear verbal lead in one situation for fear of being seen as too pushy. The right mix for you and your team is what counts! 

Would you like to feel even stronger supported in your first leadership role? Katrin also offers a new product to support first-time leaders even better: The First-Time Leaders Community. It includes a self-paced video training, regular workshops and exchange with peers, and optional individual coaching sessions. Learn more and sign up today if you think you can benefit from it!

photo by Lucie Greiner