Without good communication skills, most leaders won’t get very far. The ability to share and receive information is fundamental to success at all levels of any organization, and poor communication skills can derail even the best leaders.
Communication is among the most important leadership skills because it gives leaders the ability to effectively leverage their other skills, inspire the team and execute to reach their full potential. Great communication helps build a solid foundation based on trust, mutual respect and shared goals, creating strong relationships between leaders and team members and empowering the entire team to achieve its objectives.
The importance of effective leadership communication
Leadership communication skills are important because they have a ripple effect that positively impacts all areas of the organization. Leaders who are skilled communicators are better able to build trust between themselves and other members of the executive leadership team, helping to create cohesion at the top, which generates organizational alignment and clear elucidation of goals and expectations.
This trickles down to the rest of the organization, where strong communication makes it easy for everyone to understand what the organizational mission is and where they fit inside that vision. Some of the short- and long-term business benefits of effective communication include:
- Increased employee engagement
- Lower attrition rates
- Higher productivity
- Greater efficiency
More importantly, great communication also engenders a deeper level of trust and faith in leadership. Not only is that critical for keeping an organization operating in lockstep and pointed in the same direction, but it also gives leaders the freedom to take more risks.
Knowing they have the support of the rest of their organization behind them, leaders can test new approaches without fear of failure, driving innovation in the process. In an economy where success is defined by the ability to stay ahead of rapidly changing market demands and customer expectations, an innovative culture and mindset are key to maintaining a competitive advantage and driving success.
The 10 essential leadership communication skills
Leadership communication is complex and better thought of as a skill set rather than a single skill. Great communication is about more than simply speaking effectively to others and hearing what they say. It involves building a deep connection with people and sharing information in a constructive, engaging way.
Here are the essential leadership communication skills:
- Connection: Great communication is closely associated with high emotional intelligence, which means good communicators are able to connect with their listeners on a personal level. They have an effect that makes their listeners feel comfortable, safe and open, and not only does that encourage a healthy flow of conversation, it also deepens the engagement levels for everyone.
- Clarity: Clear communication is critical for conveying the finer, detailed points of an idea. Good communicators are careful with every word and sentence they speak or write, ensuring they’re saying exactly what they mean and that it will be taken as intended. Teams are left with a complete understanding of leadership’s message and expectations.
- Concision: Leaders with good communication skills don’t drone on and on for extended periods of time. They value their listeners’ time and appreciate that attention spans are usually short, so they get straight to the point and provide an appropriate level of detail to ensure the substance of their message is conveyed in as few words as possible.
- Focus: Great communicators know how to stay focused on one thing and one thing only. They don’t trail off on long tangents, and they don’t lose track of what they’re talking about and drift into different subjects. Focused communicators keep listeners engaged and attentive, and that ensures their message is most effectively received.
- Active listening: Sometimes, the best form of communication is to stay quiet and listen. Great communicators give other speakers their undivided attention, listening to every word and considering what they’re saying thoughtfully. They provide feedback to demonstrate that they properly understand the message, making the speaker feel heard and respected.
In addition to the above subskills, great communication is closely associated with a host of other leadership skills, all of which are mutually reinforcing. These include:
- Emotional intelligence: Great communication depends on the leaders’ ability to connect with those around them on a personal level. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are great at creating a sense of trust and familiarity that allows everyone to feel safe and at ease, facilitating more open and honest conversations.
- Curiosity: Curiosity is very closely related to active listening. Great communicators show a sincere interest in the lives, opinions and concerns of others, asking questions that encourage deeper connection and communication. An inquisitive style of communication also makes listeners feel like their personal thoughts and views are meaningful and valued.
- Open-mindedness: Keeping an open mind lets leaders see everything from the perspective of those around them. This ensures they are aware of and amenable to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking, any of which can enhance communications and help bring innovative approaches to the surface.
- Optimism: Optimism goes hand in hand with great communication because when leaders convey a sense of excitement about the future in their communication style, it helps make listeners feel like a part of the journey. That makes them want to not only listen more but also to see that message come to life.
- Inclusion: Good communicators don’t talk at their listeners — they strive to make all of their listeners a part of their message by not only making it clear where they fit into that message but also looking for constant feedback to ensure it’s being received the way they intend it to.
Signs communication in your organization could use a boost
From an organizational standpoint, poor leadership communication will have a trickle-down effect that will negatively impact people and processes at all levels. In fact, whenever there are glaring organizational problems, it’s often a sign that there is a lack of good communication at the leadership level.
Signs that your organization is in need of leadership communication improvement include:
- Lack of direction: There is confusion about the organization’s overarching mission and goals, leaving teams, departments and individuals unclear about what they’re working toward and where their individual objectives fit into the larger picture.
- Conflict is rife: Communication is essential to effective conflict resolution. Without it, tensions between individuals, teams and departments are allowed to simmer, creating persistent clashes that do lasting damage to the organization as a whole.
- Misalignment: Without a clear sense of direction from the top, organizations tend to fragment into siloed units, demonstrating minimal collaboration and working almost entirely in the narrow interests of their own departments.
- Cliques and favorites emerge: A fragmented organization breeds numerous ancillary problems, including the formation of cliques and favorites. Lacking a strong sense of cohesiveness, individuals self-organize along superficial lines.
It isn’t difficult to see how all of the above translates into low productivity, inefficiency, high turnover and ultimately a hit on the bottom line. Communication is one of the most important components of bringing an organization of individuals together, and it’s critical to get it right or else more significant problems will emerge.
Of course, any of the above signs could point to other problems, but in the end, all roads lead to leadership communication, and ensuring your leadership team has effective communication skills will go a long way to alleviating subsequent challenges.
How to tell if individual leaders need to improve their communication skills
Once it’s clear the organization has a communication problem, it comes down to pinpointing which individual leaders demonstrate the clearest opportunity for growth. As explained above, ineffective leaders also tend to lack other critical leadership skills.
A lack of communication skills is often reflected in the demeanor and personality of the leader. Common behaviors that point to poor communication skills include:
- They don’t make eye contact when speaking to others and seem disinterested or preoccupied with something else.
- They don’t actively listen to others and show a clear lack of understanding of what is being said to them.
- Their minds are almost always on other things, even when another person is raising an important issue with them.
Any one of the above behaviors exhibited on a regular basis can cause serious confusion and frustration among others. That can eventually lead to dislike for the leader, which might not only cause friction and conflict within the leadership team, but can also lead to higher attrition rates.
Worse still, poor communication can derail even leaders that are strong in other areas. For example, a leader might have a bold, powerful strategic vision, but if they are unable to communicate it to the rest of the organization and win sufficient buy-in, it will be exceedingly difficult for them to actually implement their vision.
How to enhance leadership communication skills
For many leaders, communication is one of the top skills they want to develop, and there is a tacit understanding that improving their communication techniques will positively impact the rest of the skills in their toolkit. Working with a leadership coach is one of the most effective ways to enhance communication and derive both the interpersonal and organizational benefits described above.
At The Bailey Group, we work with leaders to understand their unique strengths and weaknesses and build a leadership development approach that is tailored to their needs and goals. When it comes to communication, we work with leaders to create an effective leadership communication model at the top to help disseminate good communication styles throughout their organizations.
Among the techniques we use to help leaders enhance their communication skills include:
- Encouraging leaders to record themselves while giving presentations or making announcements so they can watch themselves communicate and mimic gaining an outside perspective on their communication style.
- Asking for regular feedback from listeners to gauge whether the leader’s message is being communicated and received effectively and accurately. This technique can also help develop a sense of humility and open-mindedness.
- Building perspective by helping the leader learn to talk less when communicating with others. Gaining an appreciation for another person’s viewpoint gives the leader valuable insight and information from other perspectives.
These are just a sampling of some of the techniques we’ve used successfully to help leaders improve their communication styles and transform their relationships across their organizations.