Outstanding leaders have outstanding communication skills. The leaders who can deliver ideas and information in appropriate, meaningful ways are the ones who bring the most success to themselves and to their organization. Sir Richard Branson describes great communication as an art. We can analyze some aspects of communication, but ultimately, like any art, great communication requires regular practice. As a leader you have your own communication style as unique as your signature. While there is much you can learn from other great communicators, developing your own “voice” and style is part of what sets you apart as an exceptional leader. Here are some thoughts on improving your communication skills.
Listening Is as Important as Speaking
Listening with ears and mind open and with genuine attention is profoundly meaningful to people because it shows them that their participation is valued. When you’re a great listener you build trust with those you lead, which helps them excel in turn. Genuinely listening to someone and articulating a meaningful, relevant response builds a bond like few other practices. Like communication styles, listening styles vary from person to person. Some people do best with eye contact and spoken questions for clarification, while others listen better when they take notes. With practice you’ll learn which specific listening activities work best for you.
Master One-on-One Communication
Leadership communication isn’t about giving great presentations, though that is important. Mastering one-to-one communication is the key to everyone on your team feeling they have been heard and understood. Communicating one-on-one with a team member about an important task, issue, or problem should not be “multitasked.” Turn off the phone, log off your computer, and pay attention. When you give someone your attention and are respectful and direct, you strengthen the bond of trust between you. Being “direct” with someone doesn’t mean being rude, but it means showing you have their best interests in mind and don’t want to sugarcoat reality. And don’t forget to listen. One-on-one communication should go both ways.
Communicate Regularly and Promptly
As a leader, you don’t want to be perceived as “invisible and omnipotent,” and that means regularly communicating with your team is essential. How you do this depends on your team, your characteristics, and your habits. Maybe it’s a weekly email detailing goals for the coming week, or maybe it’s a monthly “town hall meeting” where everyone can bring issues into the open. Promptness is important as well. Team members need to know that they can expect to hear back from you promptly when they have a question or need to say something. That means returning phone calls, texts, and emails as soon as is practical. If team members think you are ignoring or avoiding them, any trust you have with them will erode quickly.
Fine-Tune Your Public Speaking Skills
Not everyone can be a great orator, and that’s OK. Most people have to step at least a little outside their comfort zone when they speak in front of people. Making the most of your skills requires practice and taking in honest feedback from someone you trust. And there are many other ways you can develop your public speaking skills:
- Join clubs related to your interests where speaking opportunities exist
- Work with organizations like Toastmasters to sharpen different types of public speaking
- Participate in local entrepreneurial or Chamber of Commerce events
- Showcase your best work at relevant conferences
Leadership communication skills, like any other art, require practice and commitment. Some leaders work with executive coaches specifically to improve their communication skills, since these skills are so critical to success. It’s effort well-spent, however. When you’re a strong communicator, you inspire people, land better contracts, and built trust and cohesion within your team. Look around you every day for opportunities to communicate better. Return that phone call, rehearse that presentation, and give that team member your full attention when he has a question. Communication is one of the most important things we do as humans, and as a leader, you have a terrific opportunity to demonstrate the power of great communication. I would be pleased to be part of your journey to becoming the outstanding communicator and leader you are meant to be.