Leaders and communication should go hand in hand but sometimes leaders need to learn how to effectively communicate better. Leadership requires many specific skills, but none are as necessary or vital as communication. A leader has to be able to motivate and rally the troops, both literally and figuratively at times. If a leader can’t communicate, they won’t be very effective at their position.
But is it really that important to develop communication skills as a leader? The short answer is yes, but let’s break it down and see what it takes to be a better communicator and leader.
Leadership and Communication: A Historical Perspective
It’s no secret that great leaders throughout history have also been incredible orators. In the United States, some of our best presidents have been able to speak with great intelligence and clarity, including Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Outside the US, great speakers have been able to rise through the ranks on little more than their speaking ability, even coming from nothing to reach the highest offices of the land. Examples like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Winston Churchill come to mind.
Why Communication is So Valuable for Leaders
Why is it that the ability to speak has been such a reliable method for effective leadership? Well, think of it this way – imagine you’re talking to a massive audience. If you’re a great speaker, you’ll have them hanging on your every word. The longer you speak and the more profound your message, the more likely that the audience will follow you anywhere you want to go.
On a more practical level, here are some of the reasons why leaders should focus so heavily on becoming great communicators:
A big part of leadership is guiding your audience through challenges and complex topics. A great leader is able to digest those topics and turn them into simple, easy-to-understand ideas. Clarity is crucial for leadership because it ensures that everyone is on board and knows what to do.
For example, let’s say you had to lead your team through an escape room. If everyone is doing their own thing, it’s hard to piece together each puzzle and figure out how to get out. But, if you can delegate responsibilities clearly and efficiently, everyone can work together to solve each problem.
The ability to show people the path forward is one thing, but getting them to walk along that path is another. Motivation is a crucial aspect of leadership because, without it, you won’t have anyone following your lead.
Once again, imagine you’re speaking in front of a vast stadium of people. If you’re trying to get them to follow you to another location, you’d have to give them a pretty convincing argument. As a great speaker, you can find a way to use your words to motivate everyone out of their seats and into the streets for the next objective. If you’re not great with communication, no one will listen or pay attention.
A big part of communication is listening, which is critical for conflict resolution in both the workplace and beyond. Conflicts are bound to arise no matter the setting, and great leaders are capable of talking to the involved parties and de-escalating the situation.
As a leader, you sometimes have to act as a mediator. It’s your job to bring everyone together and discuss the problem so that it doesn’t worsen or happen again. Unfortunately, if you’re not great at communicating, you could invariably make the problem worse.
How to Become a Better Leadership Communicator
Knowing the value of good communication is only the first step. Now, you have to figure out how to add these skills to help reshape your workplace habits, so they can elevate everyone around you. Here are some pointers on how to become a better communicator, both as a leader and with your peers:
Be as Transparent as Possible
Transparency is critical because it helps build trust. If your employees or co-workers don’t trust you, then there’s no reason for them to listen to you. That said, full transparency is not always wise, especially if you’re discussing sensitive information with subordinates.
Overall, the goal is to help everyone understand the “why” behind your actions or talking points. Rarely is the phrase “do as I say” conducive to a productive and healthy working relationship. Part of being a leader is inspiring workers to do better and be more productive. If all you’re doing is barking orders, you can breed resentment and hostility, which can lead to conflicts down the road.
Another part of transparency is to share your internal thought process. This way, it’s easier for others to understand where you’re coming from and how you reached a particular conclusion. Also, if you pair this trait with collaboration and feedback, you can facilitate a more open, honest, and shared workplace where everyone feels included and valued.
Understand Your Audience
Part of being a leader means speaking to different types of people within your organization. Sometimes, you’ll be talking to other managers, supervisors, and executives. In other cases, you might only be talking with employees or front-line workers. In each instance, you have to know how to communicate effectively to make your points clear, as well as build trust and confidence in your words.
For example, when communicating with other executives, you can be a bit more transparent about potentially sensitive information, including worker performance. However, when talking with employees, you want to maintain a stable dividing line between yourself and them. While you can be friendly to your workers, you’re not trying to become their friend. Otherwise, employees will see you as less of an authority and more of a co-worker.
In some cases, everything from your body posture to hand signals to the language you use may need to change, depending on your audience. You must also consider how your words and actions come across when you’re in mixed company, so you don’t seem duplicitous or “fake.”
Finally, understanding your audience means knowing where they’re coming from and how they might interpret your words. For example, when discussing new rules and guidelines with workers, it helps to explain the goals behind them and why they’re important to the company. You may also ask for feedback regarding any concerns, as well as share your willingness to be flexible on certain changes that might require an adjustment period. This approach is much more preferable from the employee side instead of a boss just giving orders and expecting everyone to adapt immediately.
Follow Through on Your Words
Nothing can devalue confidence in a leader more than underdelivering on one’s promise. If you say that you’re going to do something, you have an obligation to follow through. Otherwise, why would your peers or employees believe you the next time?
Almost always, it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. All too often, leaders like to make big claims and bold projections only to fall short of expectations. While there can be other factors at play outside of your control, doing this too often leads to negative morale.
Instead, it’s better to mitigate everyone’s expectations and surpass them when the time comes. Over time, you can build a solid reputation that will do as much for your communication skills as anything else you do. When people are already primed to trust in your leadership, they’re far more willing to take your words at face value.
Honesty can be a tricky thing, especially when it comes to workplace interactions. In some cases, too much honesty can lead to conflict or hurt feelings. However, too little honesty can lead to distrust and gossip.
As a leader, you have to know when, where, and how to be honest with your words. While you don’t necessarily have to “shoot from the hip,” it helps to maintain a pragmatic point of view when necessary.
Another way to temper your honesty is to reframe it in a positive light. If an honest assessment may come across as cold and uncaring, you can preface it with words of encouragement to soften the blow. Similarly, if honesty could sap workers of their motivation, you could reframe the situation more positively to maintain productivity.
Finally, it’s imperative to recognize that communication is a two-way street. It’s not enough to talk to your co-workers and employees – you need to listen as well. However, listening only works if you internalize what others are saying and make any necessary changes accordingly.
Feedback can come in multiple forms, such as a suggestion box, asking for insight during a discussion, or hosting a Q&A session. This feedback not only helps employees feel empowered to speak up but they feel valued and respected within the organization.
Need Help With Building Better Leadership Communication? Contact Us!
While it’s easy to understand the value of communication, it’s much harder to master the fundamentals. Fortunately, we can help you grow into a better speaker and thus allow you to become a better leader in the process. Schedule a consultation today!