During the course of their studies and their working lives leaders and future leaders master the vital skills of effective managers: planning, staffing, leading, organizing and controlling.
However, the leadership skill that is often underdeveloped and undervalued is communication. This is ironic and worrying given that the ability to communicate is essential to the effectiveness of each and every leadership function.
Why? Because vital skills can never be brought to bear if you are unable or unwilling to communicate effectively. For example, if you can’t communicate well, planning something as simple as a team meeting, or getting everyone on the same page is impossible, right?
If you lecture, instruct or announce rather than communicate you are unlikely be truly successful as a leader. Leaders who focus on sounding smart or ‘expert’ rather than on what their team really needs are highly unlikely to be very popular, memorable or very successful.
I once witnessed this first hand at a conference in the US. Each speaker was an expert in his or her field, yet, when they took the stage they spoke on a level that the audience could relate to. They used personal stories, they asked questions and they didn’t give off arrogant vibes.And you know what? It worked.
Weeks after the meeting I still remember their message loud and clear, and I still remember their presence and the way they led the crowd and owned the stage.
What is being a great communicator about?
Being a skilled and effective communicator is so much more than just the message you are trying to get across.
It’s also about the signals you send, reading and understanding your audience and the situation, tailoring the message to your specific audience and making your audience feel good and valued. It’s about understanding as much—perhaps more—than it is about being understood and it’s about listening as much as speaking.
As a leader you need to keep in mind that communication is not about you; it’s about the person or group you are talking to.
As well-known US communication expert Leil Lowndes states so beautifully in a video on her website when you enter a room you shouldn’t say, “Here I am!” You should say, “Ah! There you are!” The audience and what they need to hear should be your focus as a communicator and a leader.
Here are a few more tips from Entrepreneur.com articles by Trevor Currie and Graham Young:
The “Do’s” of communication as a leadership skill
✓ Being human and real is extremely important. A little self-disclosure goes a long way to livening up communication and making the speaker more relatable and likeable; you could tell a joke, a story or personal anecdote to explain what you mean or just to keep things light and interesting.
✓ Use more conversational language and avoid fancy words, jargon, acronyms, long quotes, or loads of figures. Using them might make you come across as arrogant, aloof or condescending all of which is a real turn-off for an audience.
✓ Make sure that your message is clear and unambiguous. While you don’t want to be brusque or prevent conversational give-and- take, concise communication is also often more effective than waffling on and getting caught up in unnecessary details or fluff.
✓ Plan what you will say and how you will say it. Before you can do this, though, there are four key questions you must be able to answer: who is my audience, what do they need, what is my aim and what is the message they need to hear?
✓ Listening is another crucial aspect of being of top-notch communicator. When you place the audience first, communicate clearly and genuinely,keep yourself open to other ideas, and truly listen you will have arrived as a communicator.
✓ Use and maintain eye contact with the people you are talking to in order to make and keep a connection. This keeps both parties involved and the audience feels that they are important and part of the interaction.
✓ Keep an open mind. Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean that you always have all the answers. Allow input from others and be receptive to it.
✓ Make sure you are well informed so that what you say is accurate and truthful.
Communication pitfalls to avoid
▪ Too much self-disclosure isn’t good. Don’t include too many personal stories or examples or you may come across as self-absorbed, and the audience may withdraw from you and the interaction or get plain bored.
▪ Never pretend you are listening when you aren’t. People who are prone to this usually give themselves away with ‘tells’ such as their gaze wanders, they don’t make or maintain eye contact or they give pretty meaningless responses like “Right”, “Yeah”, “Aha”, etc. Not listening is disrespectful and won’t earn you any points on a personal level. You’ll also miss a lot of important information and ideas.
▪ Don’t discourage comments, questions, and input from your staff and colleagues. Remember that good communication should be a dialogue, not a monologue.
▪ Don’t let your ego run away with you. Being a leader is not about you; it is about your team. You need to forget personal ego and introduce understanding and empathy into your daily interactions with staff and colleagues. This usually results in those you interact with respecting and trusting you.
▪ Don’t forget that your audience consists of human beings with feelings and sensitivities that you need to be respectful of and sensitive to. Disregarding this will alienate your audience, cost you their respect and/ or liking and your message will become irrelevant.
Don’t Stop Learning
As Mike Myatt writes in his Forbes article “10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders” leaders spend most of their time each day in some type of an interpersonal situation. Because many organizational problems are the result of poor communication, it’s essential that leaders focus on becoming great communicators.
He also agrees with the various other experts by reiterating “communication is not about you, your opinions, your positions or your circumstances. It’s about helping others by meeting their needs, understanding their concerns, and adding value to their world”.
So, while enrolling in a top leadership course or doing an EMBA will equip you with the range of business skills you need for success, if you want to become the best leader you can be, don’t ever stop observing, listening and learning how to communicate.
This guest post is written by guest blogger Gretchen Shaw. Gretchen is an author, blogger and entrepreneur with a penchant for baking. She is passionate about communication, continued learning and connecting people. You can follow her on Twitter @shawgret