Powerful communication skills are an indispensable facet of any leader’s portfolio of skills and experience. The true mark of influential leadership centres on knowing how to communicate within all spaces of the organisation, internally and externally, crossing over from employees, managers, clients and investors. Each distinct stakeholder group requires a different communication and leadership style. As leaders we must therefore be able to adapt based on the group we are communicating with at any given time.
People in an organisation look to the leaders for direction on how to behave. When leaders speak with confidence and optimism, it inspires those around them. On the other hand, when they are worried or unsure, the message becomes clouded. Clear communication is most critical in times of crisis or transition, but it’s important to maintain a consistent message and tone at all times. Learning how to communicate with conviction will help leaders inspire others to believe in the organisational vision.
Regardless of the size of the organisation, individuals, teams, and leaders must feel connected. Excellent communication skills that cultivate connections require both speaking and listening. Great leaders listen to employees and are therefore able to respond in meaningful ways, which creates stronger connections. Soliciting and responding to feedback from employees on a regular basis, not just during annual reviews, helps develop open channels of communication and better rapport between leaders and employees.
Effective leadership demands interacting with people in a way that motivates and energises them. This requires communicating in a manner that goes beyond just relaying information. The most successful leaders inspire others, build connections between people, and create alignment throughout the organisation. It is always said that “in the deepest part of the bluest seas, we find the true pearls and the best looking view”. When my businesses began to face a magnitude of challenges, I had the opportunity to learn about communication. I made a lot of errors and blunders but ultimately those weaknesses led me to become effective at making connections across all spheres and the leaders I coach have benefited immensely from those learnings.
There are many critical aspects of communication but the most critical is CONNECTION. Connection breaks down barriers and builds credibility. We need to tailor our communication style to fit our audience dynamics irrespective of if they are one or a thousand. The Globe and Mail aptly state that a leader’s communication approach should combine connection and inspiration and not just be transmission of information. In this article, we will look at the power of a leader’s communication and how, as leaders, we can adapt our communication style to maximise impact.
Communication is defined as “the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs and semiotic rules.” Communication is the leader’s “information highway”. It flows freely in both directions and in every circumstance – in good times and, especially, in challenging ones. Whether spoken or written, and spanning both words and actions, the message must always convey meaning and have substance. What many of us fail to fully appreciate is that the message is not just what we say; how we say it is also equally important. Communication therefore is where leadership lives and breathes.
Chron sets out 6 communication tools, traits and strategies every leader must adopt in dealing with teams:
First and foremost, non-verbal communication. Verbal communication is the most obvious form of communication. However, research has shown people pay much less attention to the words that are said and much more attention to the actions and non-verbal cues that accompany those words. Non-verbal cues include facial expressions, use of hand motions, body posture and eye movements. Leaders should strive to always match their non-verbal cues to their words. When they do so, they are more believable and trustworthy.
Secondly, a good leader must adapt his communication style to his audience. When speaking to employees, he may need to have a much more directive style than when he is delivering a presentation to the community or speaking to clients. Leaders should identify the audience and their characteristics and interests, then adjust their communication style based on what the audience needs and what will encouage them to react to meet the goals of the communication. Throughout the course of a day, the leader may have to switch between an authoritative style with employees and an inspiring style with stockholders.
The ability to listen is also another important aspect of communication. Active listening should always be a goal, with the leader focusing on both the verbal and non-verbal language of the speaker. Active listening involves concentrating only on the speaker and ignoring outside interruptions, including the listener’s own wandering thoughts or possible responses. Active listeners also refrain from interrupting, give the speaker time to finish, show they are listening by doing things like nodding or smiling, and reflect or paraphrase back to verify their understanding.
Fourthly, setting an example is another powerful communication strategy. Leaders and business managers should also realise employees will look to them as a model of how they should behave under certain circumstances. Employees tend to emulate how they see leaders acting and communicating. If employees see a leader using an active listening style and empathetic tone with customers, they are more likely to do the same. When leaders are open to the ideas of others and praise often, employees will tend to follow suit. When speaking, leaders should consider whether they would want their employees to speak in the same way to the same audience. If not, the leader should adjust his communication style.
Last but not least is perpetual improvement of communication skills. Effective communication skills do not come naturally for most people. Many people, including business leaders and managers, need to practise repeatedly in order to improve their skills. In addition to practising, leaders should consider classes or training that will help them communicate effectively.
Effective communication is imperative to a leader’s success. Yet it is often one of the most challenging leadership skills because it is so easy to say, but not so easy to do. Effective communication requires far more skill and attention.
Here are four strategies that a leader can harness in weaving a bespoke and effective communication style for their teams and line of business:
- Communication that connects
According to research 93% of what we say is what we do not say. It does not matter how we look at it, our actions speak louder than our words. Our capacity to connect within the first 30 seconds can speak volumes to the type of leader our teams and audiences percieve us as. By modelling our communication approach through connection, others will join our train by embodying our values which in turn will color their response to our leadership style.
- Communication that Listens
Oh it is so important to LISTEN! Many of us have focused so much on hearing to react that the difference between listening and hearing has eluded us. Communication is a two-way street. We have to be not only good listeners but active listeners. We must be present throughout the conversation to understand the interests of our co-communicators and get a feel for their perspective on how to achieve goals. Active listening will help us build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, and improve accuracy. Taking a moment to listen will help us waste less time in the long run, making us more productive.
- Communication that delivers Clarity
Leadership communication is clear and simple. It is about communicating with intent, deliberation and expectation. When the people we engage do not understand what we are saying to them they will not know what they should be doing. There is much more to lose in productivity and performance when people have to circle back around to us for clarification on important information.
- Communication that releases constructive critique
Feedback is one of the most valuable things we can give and receive. For the team member it unleashes their growth, and for us the leaders, it unearths our humanity and therefore our opportunity to be better communicators. For the team, the key is to give praise when it is due, and give constructive criticism where it is applicable. It is true what they say, you really do attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. Think of feedback as a positive means to a more productive end.
Effective Communication underpins great leadership and powerful teams. As leaders, we need to strategically craft our communication style to impact, inspire and drive productivity. Bottom line – The leadership lesson here is whenever you have a message to communicate (either directly, or indirectly through a third party) make sure said message is true and correct, well reasoned, and substantiated by solid business logic that is specific, consistent, clear and accurate. It’s about helping others by meeting their needs, understanding their concerns, and adding value to their world. Do these things and you’ll drastically reduce the number of communication problems you’ll experience moving forward. (Forbes, 2012)
There is an audience of people who are ready to hear what you have to say, to learn from your experience, your skills, and be inspired by your passion. But so many of us get stuck trying to discover our message and how to communicate it, and we end up unable to find it so that we can build a brand and business around it. My goal here is to support you to find clarity around your message, and express yourself with more clarity, integrity, and confidence in everyday work situations around it, especially when the pressure’s on. Sign up now to attend my public speaking class on October 1st.