Being a leader is an ongoing process. Regardless of the situation or circumstances, great leaders are continually figuring out how to improve their skills and become better at leading others.
One of the most valuable skills a leader can have is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Without this trait, leaders aren’t able to rally their audience and motivate them to accomplish tasks and move the needle forward.
Fortunately, communication is a skill one can learn, particularly if you’re open-minded and want to improve. So, let’s look at the top 9 communication skills for leaders.
Communication is a two-way street, but many individuals and leaders tend to think of it as more of a lecture than a dialog. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow for a free exchange of ideas and solutions.
In most cases, the most important part of communication is ensuring that everyone is on the same page. However, if you don’t know how to listen, how can you know that your audience understands what you’re saying and, more importantly, is willing to follow your lead?
Listening can alleviate many of the problems that come from poor communication, such as misunderstandings, confusing objectives, and poor performance.
Also, as a leader, you need to facilitate an environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Otherwise, no one will take advantage, and miscommunication can still occur.
When you’re communicating an idea, it’s best to make it as engaging as possible. There’s a reason why so many students hate lectures, and it’s not necessarily because the subject matter is boring.
In many cases, making the topic more interesting and engaging as a story can help the listener understand it better. Overall, think of storytelling as distilling raw data into actionable insights. It’s a means of making the abstract more linear and understandable.
Being an effective communicator means that you can share complex ideas with different audiences equally. So, whether you’re talking to fellow executives, mid-level managers, or front-line employees, your words have to have the same impact.
Great leaders and communicators can adapt their language and word choices to fit their audience accordingly. Also, because effective communication is a two-way street, you have to be able to adapt based on feedback from others.
Basically, as a leader, you have to accept that you don’t necessarily have all the answers, and you may not know the “best” solution to a particular problem. So, adaptability is a crucial skill because it allows you to grow and become better as you overcome various obstacles.
No one likes a phony, especially when that person is in a leadership position. So, when communicating, you have to share your ideas as authentically as possible. This doesn’t mean you should be abrasive or “honest” to a fault.
Instead, authenticity means that you’re sincere with your words and you’re accepting of new ideas and pushback. Authenticity in communication means that you’re flexible and accommodating but that you also speak earnestly and decisively.
5) Non-Verbal Communication
Much of how we communicate comes across with body language, facial expressions, and hand gestures. As a leader, you have to be mindful of these elements when talking to your audience and ensure that there isn’t disharmony between what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.
This skill pairs perfectly with authenticity since it’s hard to be authentic if your actions don’t reflect your words. For example, if you look standoffish but say you welcome new ideas, subordinates may pay closer attention to your body language and resist offering feedback.
Being transparent as a leader is kind of a balancing act. On the one hand, you want to make sure your team knows the reasons behind various decisions so they can understand why it’s important to be on board. On the other hand, not everyone on the team needs to know every detail, particularly when it comes to sensitive information.
Overall, transparency is all about building trust between you and your employees. If they feel like you’re hiding something, they’re less willing to go the extra mile or open up about their needs and aspirations. Basically, the more guarded you are, the more they will be too. Trust is a powerful tool for leadership, so you need to know how and when to share what’s going on behind the scenes.
Transparency can also be more of a personal element within your communication. For example, if you share your motivations and beliefs with your team, they can get to know you on a deeper level. Ideally, everyone will have similar mindsets so it’s easier to align the team with specific project goals. However, differences are unavoidable, so it’s up to you to figure out how to blend different backgrounds and mentalities to work cohesively as much as possible.
There’s a tendency for leaders to think that they “know it all.” In a way, knowing everything (at least everything related to your business) can help instill confidence within your team. However, it’s also important to have an open mind and recognize that new and better ideas can come from anywhere.
Being an open-minded leader means listening to your employees and taking suggestions or recommendations to heart. Even if a worker makes a suggestion that doesn’t make sense for the situation, you can still accept it and internalize it for what it is. The suggestion itself may not work, but it can give you insight into the person’s thought process.
Great leaders understand that employees can be (and often are) a tremendous source of insightful observations and valuable adaptations. Since these are the people on the front lines, they’re more adept at figuring out solutions to various problems. So, it’s your job to uncover those insights and see how they can be adopted throughout the company.
The other side of this strategy is to make sure to give credit where it’s due. Otherwise, employees are less willing to share their ideas, meaning stagnation can permeate throughout the team, leading to less long-term productivity.
Empathy is a valuable communication skill for everyone, not just leaders. Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes allows you to view things from their perspective. Ideally, this exercise can also broaden your own perspective, allowing you to see situations from multiple angles and avoid a narrow viewpoint.
As a leader, empathy can take many forms, especially in how you communicate with others. In one situation, empathy may be showing your support for someone who is struggling with a problem (either work-related or personal). In another situation, empathy may be understanding a person’s limitations and adapting your actions to accommodate them better.
Overall, the point of empathy as a leader is to recognize how your actions impact others, both professionally and personally. For example, if you’re quick to point out faults in someone’s work but rarely give out compliments, it can make you seem cold and derisive. In a converse situation, refusing to critique others’ work may make you seem like a pushover and easily exploited. Empathy helps you realize the impact of your words and empowers you to make any necessary changes.
Here is also where soliciting feedback from employees can help, as they can provide some much-needed perspective regarding how they interpret your actions and words.
9) Visibility (aka Leading by Example)
There’s a golden rule for being a leader – everything is your fault, whether it is or not. If an employee under your directive does something wrong, you’re ultimately responsible for their actions, even if you had no idea what they were doing. This rule essentially means that you’re the most visible person within an organization, which puts a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.
With communication, visibility means following through on your words and showing your team that you can be trusted to do what you say. For example, if you tell employees that they can make suggestions, you should implement some of those recommendations. If you never accept any suggestions or make any changes, then employees will stop giving them altogether.
For many leaders, it’s easy to overpromise and underdeliver. In some cases, this discrepancy may not be malicious or intentional. For example, maybe you made a promise to your team and then forgot about it later because you had a full schedule. In this case, you want your team to remind you of the promise so you can make good on it. Otherwise, if no one speaks up and you forget, it can make it seem like you don’t really intend to follow through.
The Bottom Line
Success as a leader starts with effective and meaningful communication. If you can master these skills, it’s much easier to push your audience forward and achieve objectives more efficiently. As you may have realized, each of these skills can enhance the others, so you shouldn’t try to pick and choose which skills to emulate. Instead, you need to understand that effective communication is a comprehensive process that requires diligence, patience, and perseverance.
If you’re interested in learning how to be a better communicator, schedule a consultation today!