We’ve all been there: your boss gathers your team for a meeting and starts talking about a new project or initiative. After listening for 30 minutes, you suddenly realize you have no idea what your role will be in this project. You’re not even sure you know the details…and you definitely don’t feel excited about it.
Or maybe YOU are the boss, and you’re wondering why no one is jumping to take the lead. You’re rolling out this great new concept, but no one seems to get it. And two months down the line, the project is stalling and your employees are coming to you over and over again with endless questions that you’re sure you’ve covered – haven’t you?
These common patterns are often caused by communication skill problems. You and your team are essentially speaking different languages — and that makes them less motivated and you more frustrated.
The solution? Good communication skills to grow your leadership abilities and advance your career.
Why are communication skills important in leadership?
To answer this question, we must first understand what leadership truly is. It’s much more than making decisions or “managing” people. It’s about creating an environment where everyone (a) knows what they’re doing (b) feels empowered to do it and (c) understands and appreciates why they’re doing it.
Obviously, that all comes down to communication. If your team doesn’t get the right messages, they’ll misunderstand your company’s initiatives. They’ll be confused about what’s needed from them. And often, they’ll mentally check out or lose motivation if they don’t feel their work environment is well-defined or supportive.
As a leader, your role is to provide your employees with the information and resources they need to succeed. The key is to make them feel like a valued, essential part of the team — and that all comes down to communication.
What are the 3 essential leadership communication skills?
Everyone has a unique communication style, but when you’re a leader, you must be able to adapt that style to your audience. You need a diverse toolkit of communication skills that you can leverage as needed. While it’s ideal to have multiple communication tactics in your back pocket, here are the top 3 communication skills I’ve found to be most essential for leaders.
Many aspiring leaders assume they need to be very extraverted and dominant — which they usually take to mean that they do all the talking. However, I highly recommend that leaders listen more than they speak.
Active listening is the art of cultivating conversation: hearing ideas, giving your full attention, and, most importantly, creating a space where people feel free to give feedback.
Active listening is harder than it sounds. You must be in the moment. Don’t interrupt or allow interruptions (e.g. phone notifications) to come in. The moment you disengage from the conversation to take a call or check an email, you send a clear message that you’d rather be doing something else.
Active listening creates an environment where your team feels heard and valued. And who doesn’t want that! When you use this skill, you give verbal and nonverbal feedback to indicate that you are present, and you reflect back what was said, summarizing, and asking questions for clarification.
This is one of the most important skills for a leader and one that we often overlook. To truly communicate well, we must first listen.
Precise and Clear Wording
No matter your communication style, jumbled ideas, vaguely aspirational statements, and muddled messages don’t suit anyone’s leadership goals. I advise people to work on saying what they mean.
It’s normal for emerging leaders to have big ideas. When you want to communicate those ideas to your team, you must be specific. There can be a fine line between vagueness and over-explanation, which is why I recommend developing your own clarity of purpose. Once you have that, it’s easier to describe your goals accurately — and motivate others to embrace them.
I also recommend avoiding overly passive phrasing (e.g. “it seems that a mistake was made”) and keep the focus on what you and your team can do (e.g. “let’s solve this problem together”). Action-oriented language is always more effective than passive voice!
Empathetic leadership (and therefore, empathetic communication) is at the core of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to lead while understanding the contexts, experiences and needs of others, and being aware of their thoughts and feelings.
The truth is, leadership is not a simple matter of being assertive. To inspire and motivate your team to do and be their best, you must be willing to understand their desires and needs — not just hand down commands.
Empathy is frequently ranked as one of the most important characteristics people want from their employers and one of the top leadership skills. People want to feel heard and appreciated. Once they do, they feel more confident pursuing their goals.
Today’s leaders must demonstrate top-notch communication skills, and that means managing people, leading teams, collaborating, managing conflict and stress while communicating purposefully with empathy to deliver on performance objectives.
Other Crucial Skills
For time’s sake, I’ve focused on those three core skills. However, your communication toolkit should also include:
Open body language: Know the difference between aggressive, closed-off posture (crossed arms, raised chin, etc.) and inviting, empathetic body positions (relaxed arms, upright posture, leaning in, etc.)
Diplomacy: Know how to acknowledge conflicts, promote solutions, and invite feedback without passing blame or deflecting.
Strategic compliments: Know how to sincerely praise employees and celebrate their skills while guiding them toward further improvement. If you want to learn more about that, I have a great technique to recognize your employee performance here.
How can you use communication skills in leadership?
Once you’ve built your communication toolkit, it’s time to learn how to use them. Different scenarios require different skills. Let’s say you’ve become that boss trying to motivate your team to take on a new initiative. That’s the moment where you need to break out your precise language and active listening skills.
In a private discussion with an upset or poor-performing employee, though, your tactics should change. You’ll probably need to rely on your diplomacy and empathy skills, which create a productive and supportive environment for the employee to understand your needs and share theirs with you.
Communication skills are leadership skills in action
If you’re concerned about your communication skills or are starting to doubt your proficiency as a leader, don’t worry: leadership skills can absolutely be learned and refined. The great thing about communication tactics is that they can be practiced and honed until you’ve mastered every leadership scenario!
One way to improve these skills is to hire an executive coach. An executive coach is perfect for leaders who are:
- Professionals transitioning into their first manager role
- Managers who lead people or teams
- Newly promoted executives
- Leaders transitioning into a new company
Executive coaching can make the difference in helping you uplevel your communication skills and taking your career to the next level.
Another approach to improve your communication skills is to learn more about emotional intelligence. Although executive coaching and emotional intelligence go hand in hand, some of my clients benefit from starting off improving their communication skills through taking an inventory profile examining your EQ results through four key dimensions of leadership: authenticity, coaching, insight, and innovation.
This can lead to insightful conversations around unleashing your untapped potential, increasing your leadership and communication skills effectiveness, and becoming aware of your emotions and their impact so you can propel higher.
If either of these options sounds like the right fit for you, schedule a discovery call today and let’s take the next step on your leadership journey, together.