When you’re leading a group of people, communication is everything. But how do you know you’re delivering the right style of communication?
What makes a good leader? Authenticity, emotional intelligence, and humility are all attributed to great leaders, but these count for nothing if the subject isn’t able to communicate well. Communication is at the core of leadership, it is its primary function. Not just person to person, but across departments, partners, clients – even, sometimes, on a global level.
Communication is the key aspect that brings your message to the masses and allows an organization to move towards a shared vision. Without good communication skills, your leadership is void. In short, and in the words of James Humes, “the art of communication is the language of leadership”.
So, what is it that makes great leaders communicate well? Good communication is a complex blend of the physical, mental and emotional. It requires you to be aware of your own conduct, work alongside the organization and be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
The easiest way to lose people is to use complex language and including irrelevant information. People have a better understanding when you say what you mean.
When you use complicated language, people can feel too embarrassed to ask for clarification, especially if you’re using industry terms, acronyms and terminology they feel they should know.
Instead, focus on being understood. In order to convey a message simply, you need to understand and believe it completely. Knowing what you are about to say, and how you say it, will mean that your message will be comprehensive to everyone.
This doesn’t just involve verbal communication, but written communication too. Any written message must be simplified: fewer words, shorter sentences, drop the jargon.
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.
In order to possess good leadership qualities, you need to speak to people with their point of view in mind. Empathy gives you a bird’s eye view on affairs – you can see the effect you are having on people, you can understand your team better and work out how to communicate with the various characters that make up your organization.
In the U.S. Army’s Field Manual on Leader Development, there is an enormous emphasis on empathy which characterizes it as such:
“Empathy is defined as the ability to share and understand someone else’s feelings. The capacity for empathy is an important attribute for leaders to possess. Empathy can allow leaders to understand how their actions will make others feel and react. Empathy can help leaders to understand those that they deal with including other Soldiers, Army Civilians, local populace, and even enemy forces. Being able to see from another’s viewpoint enables a leader to understand those around them better.”
Empathy also allows you to predict what your actions will have on others, and this can help build, nurture and inspire your people.
The art of effective listening is essential to clear communication, and clear communication is necessary to management success.
When you’ve got a clear idea of what is needed, you can speak with clarity on the subject. If you need data to back up your message, memorize the numbers inside out. Your team members should be hanging on to your every word, so you need to deliver your words with complete conviction. When you’re thinking clearly, you can speak clearly too.
Confusing people and slowing down business are just two symptoms of not delivering a clear message. Don’t presume everyone is on the same page as you. Make sure your communication is concise and simple and if necessary, don’t be afraid of inviting feedback from your team.
You don’t build a bond without being present.
If you want to improve communication with your team, make sure you have a steady physical presence in the office. Face-to-face is the most productive and powerful ways of communication. With non-verbal cues, facial expressions and tonal inflection, we get more from these types of interactions than just the words – far more than a simple email could convey.
In these moments of being present with someone, rapports are built, body language starts to mimic the others and even the ‘mirror neurons‘ within the brain start to share sensations and feelings. All these help strengthen relationships, boosting engagement, collaboration and productivity.
Use different channels
Social media is one of the most under-rated business tools in my opinion. It’s an amazing cockpit for any CEO.
While the most important channel of communication is face-to-face, it’s also important to harness other media. Emails, social media and video are all powerful ways of delivering your message without physically being there. It’s important to be clear, concise and tailor your tone to your audience.
Platforms like your company intranet, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are brilliant for delivering non-urgent communications. Plus, all these have the added advantage of allowing you to post videos. Video is an incredibly effective medium to convey a message – and according to data from Forrester, one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. With around 80% of users remembering the videos they watch online, it’s definitely a powerful way of communicating when you’re not face-to-face.
Body language and tone of voice – not words – are our most powerful assessment tools
In 1971, Albert Mehrabian published his findings that communication was only 7% verbal, but 55% body language. Which is why, when you’re speaking to people, you need to focus on not only the words you are using, but also what your body is doing.
When you want to instill trust in your audience, you need to make sure your body is aligned with your verbal message. Gestures and eye contact are hugely important when conveying your message. If you’re folding your arms when declaring how open you are, or dropping eye contact when talking about communication, your body is in direct conflict with the words you are speaking. For the audience, this is a mixed message, and the trust you wanted to instill will quickly vanish.
We have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak
While you’re eager to move forward, a good leader gives space for other people to talk. One of the most important aspects of leadership communication is listening to the people around you.
Asking your team for their ideas and thoughts on a subject can open up fresh avenues of thinking. A leader needs to practice ‘360 listening‘, whereby you’re not only listening to what the person is saying and the way they’re saying it, but also what they’re not saying. You can pick up on the unspoken by how the person reacts to different topics. If they’re effusive about one thing and reticent about another, it probably suggests you should tackle any problems that they’re not voicing.
Listening takes on other guises. You may need to find out personal situations that are affecting someone’s professional life and help where appropriate.
Communication tips for leaders
- Plan in advance what message you are going to deliver to your team.
- Leaders need to display confidence, so practice speaking to large groups of people as much as possible
- Research your topics thoroughly and make sure you understand the fundamentals of your message
- Be a living example of what you preach – turn up on time, work smart, make time for others, solve problems and champion your people.
- Use stories and visuals to help people understand your message.
- Always welcome suggestions and feedback.
- Be a stabilizing force within your team.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a leader is made, not born. Good leaders are continually honing their skills, and extra training or coaching in certain areas will only equip you with better skills to lead your workforce.