Leadership is all about communication. Leaders are literally the conduit with and between people. They are responsible for working with and through their team members to accomplish tasks that will help the organization achieve its objectives. In the process, they are also communicating with and facilitating communications between, team members and other departments, customers, vendors, community members, and other important stakeholders.
Leadership communication skills are required for both written and verbal communication that may take place in-person and, increasingly, digitally. Leaders must also be aware that even their nonverbal behaviors are part of their overall communication and impact how they are perceived.
Developing effective communication skills is a lifelong process. Over time, leaders learn how to most effectively communicate with others through their individual experiences and lessons learned through leadership training and emulating the effective leadership style of others.
Here we take a look at what communication skills are, why they’re important, and the seven essential leadership communication skills required by effective leaders.
What are Communication Skills?
Communication skills represent the abilities and aptitudes that people have for interacting with others. They are critical for effective leadership. In fact, poor communication skills can lead to a variety of impacts of poor leadership in organizations—from misunderstandings to damaged relationships, dissension, and conflict.
These skills include the ability to listen well, strong verbal communication skills, the ability to convey ideas in writing, and, ultimately, the ability to interact successfully with others through any and all communication channels.
Why Communication is Important for Leaders
Leaders with good communication skills are able to get things done through others and successfully achieve organizational objectives. They build strong teams, motivate employees to work hard, and ensure that they remain engaged and productive. Effective communication can boost morale and employee engagement, build trust and maintain productive relationships.
Seven Critical Communication Skills for Leaders
Here we take a look at seven critical elements of effective leadership communication skills.
Relationships are built through communication; communication requires listening. But not just listening in the passive sense. We all have ears, most of us can hear others. Yet hearing others doesn’t mean we’re effective listeners. Effective listeners are active listeners. They listen both to the words or message, others are conveying as well as to the emotions behind the words. They also are able to accurately read body language.
Effective listening is aided by the ability to ask open-ended questions to get others to share their thoughts and ideas, to ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding, and to focus on the person speaking without distractions (either external or internal).
Leaders who practice effective listening skills maintain eye contact, offer affirmative encouragement, and avoid interrupting, prejudging, or offering solutions until they’re certain they have accurately heard the entire message. They listen openly to others’ ideas without disagreement or censure.
Providing Recognition and Appreciation
Employees want and need to be recognized and appreciated for the work they do. Effective leaders offer regular recognition and appreciation to employees through both verbal and written communications. In doing so, they are specific about what actual behaviors or actions they’re recognizing and explicit in explaining to employees what they did that merited the recognition. They go out of their way to recognize and praise employees regularly.
In addition to recognizing and appreciating positive actions, behaviors, and outcomes, effective leadership communication skills also include the ability to provide constructive feedback when warranted. A blend of both positive and constructive feedback is required to most effectively develop employees and to ensure their engagement and productivity. In fact, even constructive feedback can improve employee morale—feedback that helps employees learn and grow by providing them with the information they can act upon is a key element of employee development.
Giving Clear and Concise Instructions
One of the most critical ways leaders use communication is to give direction to their employees so they can do their work. That requires concise and clear instructions that ensure understanding. The better employees understand what is expected of them, the more likely they will be able to meet—and even exceed—quality and productivity expectations.
Giving clear and concise instructions effectively requires leaders to:
- Ask, and not command.
- Stress what to do, not what to avoid.
- Say why it’s important.
- Leave freedom of action.
- Remember that it’s a dialogue.
As they provide direction and instructions, leaders need to keep in mind that the exchange should be two-way. It’s not about them simply “telling employees what to do.” It’s also about seeking and listening to feedback, questions, and requests for clarification from employees. It is the leader’s responsibility to confirm understanding.
Finally, leaders need to ensure that their instructions are actionable and to hold employees accountable for proceeding as agreed upon.
Empathy is the ability to understand the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others—to “get inside their heads.” The ability to empathize with employees will result in a higher level of trust and earn leaders respect among their team members. This involves putting yourself in their situation—based on how they, not you, would perceive that situation—and seeking to understand their perspective.
Empathy is developed over time. The longer you know your employees and the more opportunities you have to interact with and spend time with them, the stronger your relationship will be, and the greater your ability to empathize.
Leaders communicate empathy not only through words but also through actions. In fact, in many cases, it is a leader’s actions (what they do) that can have more impact than their words (what they say they will do). Effective leaders make and keep commitments and are more other- than self-centered.
Successfully Resolving Conflict
Effective leadership requires conflict resolution. Conflict is a given in any situation that involves two or more people. The larger the group, the greater the likelihood and more frequent conflict are likely to be. Rather than seek to avoid or remove conflict, leaders need to become adept at resolving conflict.
Conflict resolution requires the ability to turn conflict into future-focused problem-solving. It requires the ability to effectively give and receive feedback. In the process, leaders are aware of both their own and others’ responses and able to adapt their approach accordingly. Their goal is to diffuse anger and help the individuals engaged in conflict to move forward together successfully.
Ultimately, leaders need to develop a solid understanding of the needs, motivations, desires, and concerns of their employees and other key audiences (e.g., other leaders, customers, vendors, etc.). Developing that understanding helps to build strong, trusting relationships which open the door to honest and transparent interactions that drive innovation and improved performance.
Creating understanding requires listening actively, avoiding distractions, reading emotions, and prioritizing issues for action based on mutual considerations.
Great leaders are great communicators. But great communicators are made, not born. Leaders need to leverage a combination of understanding the elements of great leadership communication skills, practicing those skills, and applying them on the job. That’s what The Leadership Journey has to offer: through short, concise courses, practical skill-building, on-the-job application, and accountability.
The Leadership Journey helps your leaders develop the leadership communication skills they need to effectively manage themselves and others. Invest in a communication training program for your current and future leaders today—invest in The Leadership Journey.