Leadership and communication goes hand in hand. Great leaders are great communicators. A great leader can connect, inspire and influence. A leader who can communicate effectively brings people together. In his or her presence, people are comfortable speaking, sharing ideas and expressing different opinions.
While some people are born with the gift of the gab and are natural orators, many are not. In case you are thinking it’s over, let me interject by saying that effective communication is 100 percent trainable.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership has been a big part of my life for more than 15 years. Growing up, I never thought I could be a leader. But here I am, a woman in business and a leader in my community. Even though I have achieved the success I am still learning every day to become a greater leader. I admit at the beginning of my leadership journey, I was attracted to the status and prestige that being a leader brings. But now, I see leadership as a responsibility not just to myself and my family but to the people whose livelihood and future depends on my success. With great success comes great responsibility. Because I feel this responsibility, I work harder to be better than I was yesterday.
Some people think leadership is nature but I believe leadership is both nature and nurture. Some people are born with attributes that make them good leaders like self-confidence, optimism, dynamism and charisma. Some people train to be greater leaders. The more you believe in yourself and the bigger role your leadership encompasses, the more you will want to better yourself.
How to improve your leadership communication skills
I honed my leadership communication skills when I started my business. Running a business means you have to be able to communicate at all levels. You are constantly challenged to think on your feet and to make decisions that can have an impact on your future and the future of the people who depend on you. In moments like this, clear and accurate communication becomes crucial. I guess you can say I learned to communicate well out of necessity. My business and my future depended on it. It was survival.
So, if your job or business depends on your ability to communicate, then it’s time to tell yourself to do something about it. Even if your future does not depend on it, effective communication is still a skill worth acquiring. Effective communication can mean the ability to articulate meaning, the power to motivate and inspire others to action or the skill to negotiate complex situations. If you are serious about becoming a great leader, you may want to start by honing these skills.
One of the best rewards of communication is the ability to connect and build relationships. A leader who can clearly articulate the organisation’s goals to his or her people has more success convincing the people to work for the company. Good communication foster strong bonds and builds better relationships. If your people like you, admire you and trust you, they will not hesitate if you need them for any reason – whether it’s to work harder, accept new changes or deliver better outcomes.
In today’s rapidly changing business environment, communication is an essential tool for business survival. The recent global pandemic is a good example to illustrate what I mean. During the pandemic, many companies were forced into crisis management mode. In moments of crisis, the ability to communicate clear and accurate information is crucial. Great leaders who communicate effectively know how to use the power of their words to motivate their people, assure their customers and negotiate with their suppliers.
3 ways to improve your leadership communication skills
Ready to be that great leader who can communicate effectively to your people? These three strategies worked for me. I am confident they will work for you too.
Great leaders communicate at a human level.
This is an interesting one. Do you know how to communicate at a human level? Or are you a bot? In today’s digitised world, it’s quite easy to default to non-human interaction because there are so many options for us to choose from (text, emails, chats, posts, even videos to a certain extent). What’s lacking is human-to-human communication. In one of my earlier roles, I worked in an office staffed mainly by millennials who were afraid to answer the phone because it was a real human voice calling. I kid you not. The new generation of workers is so used to electronic communication that face-to-face can become daunting.
If you don’t start establishing one-to-one dialogues with your team, you lose the ability to connect with them on a human level. Human beings are relational. That means we crave contact with others. Your team may find it hard to relate to you if the only interaction they have with you is inanimate. When they cannot relate to you, they cannot like you. The more distanced your staff are from you, the harder it is for you to get them to work harder or to accept change.
Great leaders listen first; question later
Great leaders build trust by listening to what their people have to say. If you are not given a chance to speak, you can’t express what you feel. A leader who encourages his or her people to speak builds better relationships and trust than one who does all the talking.
Earning your people’s trust is half the battle won. When employees believe they have a boss who cares about what they have to say, they are happier and more satisfied in their jobs. Happy employees equal higher productivity, fewer resignations, and more buy-in.
To listen, you need to pay attention, not interrupt and respond when a response is needed. Don’t you hate it when you are in a meeting and it’s your time to present and the boss decides it’s a good time to check his or her emails? It’s annoying, right? If you don’t like it being done to you then don’t do it to others.
Listening and absorbing is good. Asking questions is even better. When asking questions, try sticking to quality questions that can give you information that is not stated, understood or obvious. Even as a leadership strategist, I constantly remind myself to ask quality questions when speaking to others because quality questions give quality outcomes.
Great leaders communicate not judged
The ability to articulate vision is a key function of a leader. In times of crisis, leaders who are good communicators know what to say and when to say it. More so in today’s rapidly changing environment where change is the only constant. In these times, I believe that effective communication can build trust and instil confidence.
You cannot be an effective communicator if you are quick to judge others. By judging them, you’re not giving the person a fair go because you already have a preconceived notion about their abilities, personality or motives. Instead of starting a discussion with an assumption, leave your ego at home and begin with a clear and unbiased frame of mind. Allow the person the chance to speak and to present his or her case before you make any judgements or offer your opinions.
To be a great leader, you need to be a great communicator. I acquired my communication skills running my business. When you are in business, you are facing challenges every day of the week. Problems occur all the time and you are forced to think on your feet. You learned very quickly how to respond to uncertainties and how to assure your staff, customers and suppliers.
I am challenging you to do the same – even if you are not your own boss. It’s not difficult. Start by keeping an open mind and learning how to communicate without beating about the bush. If you are going into a meeting and you have some important issues you want to raise, prepare what you want to say and how you are going to raise these issues with your team. Stay focused. Stay sharp. Don’t digress and never be distracted.
Mastering the art of effective communication is crucial for success. The ideal is to create an ecosystem where teams and leaders alike support one another through transparent and honest communication. A culture where everyone does what they love and love what they do; where communication is open, clear and inclusive with plenty of opportunities for questioning and sharing. If you can master this, you have mastered the art of communicating like a great leader!
I recently wrote a book on leadership titled ‘Great Leadership Starts with You’ where I discussed how I improved my communication skills. Like most people, I was not a natural-born communicator. I learned through my mistakes and by observing other great leaders around me. I believe you can do the same too. All you need is to take that first step towards your own greatness.
Read more about Leadership skills in my #1 Amazon bestselling book “Great Leadership Starts with You”
Iris Du is a leadership strategist and human behaviour expert who thrives on helping individuals, leaders and businesses achieve the success they deserve. Drawing on leadership, attraction and manifestation strategies, Iris works with organisations to help them leverage their natural talent to create highly engaged and high-performing leaders and teams.