One of the most curious observations I made in one of my earlier jobs was how the phone in the office would ring for a long time without anyone in the room picking it up. I was in an office filled with workers but most of them were afraid to answer the phone because they were not sure what to say to the caller on the other end of the line. Communication, whether online or offline, involves answering questions and dealing with conflicts. Not many people -even leaders and managers – have mastered the art of communication as I’ve seen throughout my career. As a result of this, they lack the ability to communicate a vision, secure a promotion or be the great leader they want to be. It started me thinking about the issue. It’s true, school does not teach us how to communicate professionally or to speak clearly over the phone. Technology has further isolated us from the art of speaking with clarity and conviction because in some circumstances it has removed the need for us to speak directly to another human being. Yet, a great leader needs to be a great communicator. How else can you share your vision, inspire others to follow the dream, galvanise a team to action or motivate others to excel?
The power of words is the theme of this article. I want to share with you why words can be an empowering tool for today’s leaders. Words have the power to inform. They can teach us things. They can hurt us. They can make us angry. But they can also heal us, unite us, mobilise us and inspire us to greatness. On their own, they are simple elements but combined into phrases and sentences, they become a powerful tool of communication that can influence others to think, act and behave differently.
If I ask you to name a great leader who is also a great orator, you can probably come up with a list of names in an instance. Think of political figures, business leaders, athletes, movie stars, authors, activists, and others who have inspired you. There are many great leaders out there who know how to use the power of their words to influence others. Wouldn’t it be great if you possess this skill too?
Elements of effective communication
Communication is the key to great leadership. We’ve already established that. Now, let’s have a chat about it. What are the elements of effective communication? If you do a google search, you will find dozens of articles on this subject. I am only going to drill down to three I think are the most important if you want to speak like a leader:
People tend to listen to a leader who can demonstrate they are in charge. When we are sick, we go to the doctor. We take his or her advice because we believe they are a person of authority. Likewise, citizens of a country listen to their leaders because the leaders are the people in charge. If you can’t demonstrate to your staff that you are their leader, they will not listen to you. Your staff needs to see you as a person of authority whether it’s solving a complex problem or caring about their welfare. They need to see that their leader has integrity and character before they can trust you and follow you.
Are you emotionally connected to your team? Do they feel that what you have to say matters to them? Do they feel that you care about their position, opinion, or wellbeing? One of the most effective ways to get a message across is speaking from the heart and showing genuine interest and concern for the audience you are addressing.
All the understanding and empathy in the world is not going to help you if your people cannot grasp your basic ideas or how you came to your conclusions. Make a clear argument and use data and analysis to support your points if you want to make a real impact.
5 Tips to Speak Like a Great Leader
The five tips I am sharing in this section came from my recently published book: ‘Great Leadership Starts with You: Be the Leader You Want to Be’. The book teaches you how to lead from within and become a greater leader.
The chapter on communication offers useful tips and advice to leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, executives, and workers who want to improve their communication skills. Here are 5 tips from the chapter:
1. Follow the two-way street
Communication is a process that usually involves two parties. A sender and a receiver. A single word can have different meanings to different people. In one of my training sessions with my team, I asked everyone what success meant to them. The responses I received were varied from freedom to abundance to fulfilment and recognition. See how one word can have so many meanings? Imagine if it were a speech, an email, or a report? As a leader, it is important to listen not assume because we all see and process things in our own ways. Your truth is not necessarily someone else’s truth. As human beings, we love to hear the sound of our own voices. It’s time we learn to listen to other voices in the room as well.
2. Talk the talk. Walk the walk.
Great leadership starts from within you. It has taken me 15 years to learn about leadership and I can honestly say, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Many of the skills I acquired did not come from an instruction manual or a textbook. I learned it through life. In the early days of my leadership journey, I was interested in wins. I thought that success was measured by the number of wins I secured whether it was how many rungs of the corporate ladder I managed to climb or how much money I was able to make in sales. Nowadays, leadership to me is about a higher calling. It is about the power I possess to influence others and to do good. Your leadership journey will be different from mine. Use your experiences as triggers to learn and to improve. Most of all, be authentic. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk too. The more real you are as a leader, the more your staff will believe what you have to say.
3. Shut the door on ego.
There’s no room for ego in your leadership journey. I know it’s not easy. Leaders are humans too. So as humans we can become hurt, upset, and angry by what others say or do. What sets us apart is that we are in a position of authority, and we have others relying on us. How we behave and act has consequences that can be far-reaching beyond that of our personal lives.
The next time ego pays a visit, try jumping on board a helicopter and leaving it behind. A helicopter point of view is a wonderful way of dealing with tension in the workplace. Consider everyone’s perspective on the problem by listening to them and encouraging them to say what they want to say then gather all the viewpoints together and look at the bigger picture. You will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Trust me.
4. Listen first. Speak later.
I know it’s hard. You are the leader and you have earned the right to speak first. But after you have made the speech or introduction, it’s time to take a back seat and let the team shine. Listening is a hard skill. It requires attention, empathy, and consideration. You also need the ability to pick up distress signals – whether verbal or non-verbal. If you know a staff member is unhappy, worried, or concerned, create an opportunity to address what’s bothering them.
5. Connect on a human-level
Are you a robot, sub-human or human? I think we know what the right answer is. Great leaders communicate with their people on a human-to-human level. The most effective communication is one that is fostered by genuine relationships, mutual respect, and trust. Need I say more?
If you stop to think, you will realise that many of the great leaders who have touched your life, speak like great leaders. Most leaders are not born with great oratorical skills. These skills are learned. They are a culmination of experiences and events. They happen when you decide to take control of how you want to live your life and what type of leader you want to be. I believe if you show empathy, support, and guide your staff and help them overcome their challenges, you can earn their trust and respect. After that, everything you say and do, can and will inspire them.
Learn how to lead from within and attract success to your life. ‘Great Leadership Starts with You – Be the Leader You Want to Be’ is Amazon #1 Best Seller.
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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.