It’s no secret that good leaders are also good communicators.
And the best leaders have learned that effective communication is as much about authenticity as it’s about the words they speak and write.
“Communication and leadership are inextricably tied,” says Susan Tardanico. “How can you galvanize, inspire, or guide others if you don’t communicate in a clear, credible, authentic way?”
The former broadcast journalist and 20-year corporate executive advises leaders to focus on these 5 essentials of leadership communication:
1. Beware of the “say/do” gap. “This is all about credibility, which boils down to trust — one of the most potent, precious, and fragile elements of leadership,” says Tardanico. “If your actions don’t align with your words, there’s trouble. And it can turn into big trouble if you don’t recognize and correct it swiftly and genuinely.”
It is often difficult to see the say/do gap in yourself, so Tardanico says to rely on a few trusted colleagues to tell it to you straight and flag discrepancies.
Of course, you have to be prepared to hear the feedback and address issues — which isn’t always easy. “Rule of thumb: it’s better to say nothing or delay your communication until you’re certain that your actions will ring true,” she advises.
2. Take the complex and make it simple. “Being complex does not make you smart,” insists Tardanico. “There is power in clarity and simplicity.” She notes that people are already suffering from information overload, and your job is to distill complex thoughts and strategies into simple terms that your employees can relate to.
“The more memorable, the better,” she advises. “If you’re having trouble distilling something to its essence, it’s a sign that you may not have a clear understanding of it. That makes it impossible for you to communicate it to others effectively.”
Tardanico also notes that leaders find it easy to get mired in technical jargon and business-speak. “Beware of this trap. Just say what you mean,” she urges.
3. Don’t fake it. Find your own voice. Use language that’s distinctly your own. Let your values come through in your communication.
“I wrote for two executives who didn’t have a voice,” Tardanico recalls. “They wanted me to be the voice, to make them sound eloquent. They wanted to sound like someone else. Forget about eloquence — worry about being real. People want real. People respect real. People follow real. Don’t disguise who you are. People will never willingly follow a phony.”
4. Be visible. Are you visible to the people who matter most — those who will help you achieve organizational goals? This is not about being seen on CNBC or making the rounds of the speaker circuit.
“Visibility is about letting your key stakeholders get a feel for who you are and what you care about,” explains Tardanico. Today, it’s easy to hide behind a computer and transmit messages to others without seeing or interacting with them. Although e-communication serves a valuable purpose, it is no substitute for face-to-face communication.
“In today’s environment, people are burned out, confused, and stressed,” Tardanico says. “They need to feel a personal attachment to you and the work that you believe in. They need to feel valued.”
Tardanico recommends doing a “calendar test” to make sure you’re allocating time regularly to be out on the floor, in the factory, in the call center, in the lab, in the store. Show your people that you care about them and their work.
5. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Stop, look, and listen. Remember that effective communication is two-way.
Tardanico says that good leaders know how to ask good questions, and then listen with both their eyes and ears. “It’s easy to be so focused on getting your message out — or persuading others — that you don’t tune in to what you see and hear. Because you’re in a position of authority, you won’t always get direct feedback. You need to read between the lines,” says Tardanico.
“Listen and hear what is coming back at you. Look for the nonverbal cues. Sometimes a person’s body language will tell you everything you need to know.”