Communication is critical. Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. Good communication is a core leadership function, as well as it being a key characteristic of a good leader. In our latest online poll, more than 47% of respondents selected communication as still being the most important skill for contemporary leaders. Here Kathryn Spetch, Consultant at Berwick Partners explains why.
Describing effective communication as a 2-way street is passé
Communication for leaders is much more complicated; leaders at all levels need to know more than the mechanics of sending and receiving information. Harnessing the ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills a leader can have. Leaders need to be able to handle large volumes of information; they must reflect, absorb, and convey their message with clarity to a multitude of audiences. From clients, partners, employees, and other stakeholders and influencers.
Find your own voice, be honest and sincere. People want to trust in their leaders and when they do, the leader becomes part of the reason others want to succeed. In challenging times people do not need mission statements, they want a leader who they can trust and who is authentic.
You must be curious in seeking information, and then have the talent to act on it quickly.
If you want to communicate well, don’t be out of sight. Don’t be known only by your emails and official missives. Be present, visible, and available. Getting “out there” — consistently and predictably — lets others know what kind of leader you are
Listening is vital
Good communicators are also good listeners. When you listen well, you gain a clear understanding of another’s perspective and knowledge. Listening fosters trust, respect, openness, and alignment. When speaking to the CEO at one of the UK’s leading charities, their mantra is to “listen to the quiet voices”. Leadership includes asking and really listening to everyone with the belief that you will hear something that will educate you. A great leader recognises subject matter expertise, uses it, and gives credit where credit is due.
Tell a story
When leading through or out of a crisis, leaders need to be able to articulate a story that is true to people's lived experience, providing a compelling vision for moving forward through challenges. There is no point having great ideas or knowledge if you cannot then get your message across clearly and positively. There are many examples of prominent leaders being great story tellers with examples cited by interviewees including: Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama, and Julia Gillard.
Theodore Roosevelt once said: "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Whilst classic business theory tells leaders to stay at arm’s length, if you don't foster meaningful relationships with people, you'll never know what's really on their mind until it's too late to do anything about it. Think dialog not monologue – the more personal and engaging the conversation is, the more effective it will be. Don't assume someone is ready to have a particular conversation with you just because you're ready to have the conversation with them.
The bottom line
The key to becoming a great leader has always been being skilled in communication. Especially today, when communication channels are rapidly increasing and the need for connectivity between a leader and their employees is in high demand. Effective leadership communication is a definitive cornerstone to business success.
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