1 Idea, 3 Facts, and 5 Tips
Describing effective communication as a 2-way street is passé. Communication is much more complicated, and leaders at all levels need to know a whole lot more than the mechanics of sending and receiving information.
Here are some things to remember about communication for leadership:
How Important Is Communication for Leaders?
It’s critical. Communication is a core leadership function and a key characteristic of a good leader. Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. Leaders need to be skilled communicators in countless relationships at the organizational level, in communities and groups, and sometimes on a global scale.
You need to think with clarity, express ideas, and share information with a multitude of audiences. You must learn to handle the rapid flows of information within the organization, and among customers, partners, and other stakeholders and influencers.
3 Facts About Communication for Leaders
1. Authenticity counts — a lot. Be honest and sincere. Find your own voice; quit using corporate-speak or sounding like someone you’re not. Let who you are, where you come from, and what you value come through in your communication. People want, respect, and will follow authentic leadership. So forget about eloquence — worry about being real. Don’t disguise who you are. People will never willingly follow a phony.
2. Visibility is a form of communication. If you want to communicate well, don’t be out of sight. Don’t be known only by your emails and official missives. Show up. In person if you can. As often as possible. Be present, visible, and available. Getting “out there” — consistently and predictably — lets others know what kind of leader you are. People need to see and feel who you are to feel connected to the work you want them to do. Find ways to interact with all of your stakeholder groups.
3. Listening is a powerful skill. Good communicators are also good listeners. When you listen well, you gain a clear understanding of another’s perspective and knowledge. Listening fosters trust, respect, and openness. Active listening is a key part of coaching others. So allow people to air their gripes and complaints. Ask questions that open the door to what people really think and feel.
And pay close, respectful attention to what is said — and what’s left unsaid.
5 Tips for Leaders to Communicate More Effectively
1. Communicate relentlessly. Communicate information, thoughts, and ideas clearly — and frequently — in different media. Keep processes open and transparent, and find ways to help smooth the path of communication for your team or organization. Shed all traces of detachment and arrogance and take the time to talk to your people.
2. Simplify and be direct. Say what you mean. Be direct. Don’t hide behind complexity or pile on a ton of information. Simple communication can be smart communication.
3. Listen and encourage input. Pause. Be okay with silence. Encourage the other person to offer ideas and solutions before you give yours. Do 80% of the listening and 20% of the talking. And showing interest in, and respect for, your colleagues will help you make the emotional connection that is so important in effective leadership. Let team members know they are valuable, show empathy, and create psychological safety. It will show those you lead that you care about both them and the organization.
4. Illustrate through stories. When you tell a good story, you give life to a vision, goal, or objective. Telling good stories creates trust, captures hearts and minds, and serves as a reminder of the vision. Plus, people find it easier to repeat a story or refer to an image or quote than to talk about a vision statement, strategy document, or project plan.
5. Affirm with actions. While effective leaders master the art and craft of language, speaking clearly and presenting logical and compelling arguments, skilled leaders also know that communication goes beyond words. If people hear one thing from you and see another, your credibility is shot. People need to trust you. Your behavior and actions communicate a world of information — so be clear on the messages you send when you aren’t saying anything.
Leaders Communicate with Actions and Attitude, Too
At a very basic level, communication is the transmission of meaning between a sender and a receiver. But realize that your attitude and actions give additional meaning to your spoken and written messages. Your behavior gives people information about your disposition, opinion, or mood — regardless of the words you speak.
Communication can disclose the leader’s authenticity, sincerity and virtually every other aspect of a leader’s character. When a leader is all talk and no substance, people see right through the official message.
So what does a leader’s communication style say about his or her character?
Consider what effective leaders do when they communicate. They:
- Handle resistant audiences well;
- Listen to individuals from all levels of the organization;
- Encourage direct and open discussion;
- Initiate difficult, but needed, conversations;
- Are clear about expectations and ask good questions; and
- Involve others before developing a plan of action.
So, for better leadership communication, think not only about your words, but also about your attitude and actions too. It will make a huge difference to your people — and your organization.
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Build a coaching culture of open communication at your organization with our Better Conversations Every Day program, available in CCL-delivered versions or in a scalable, licensed train-the-trainer model.