One of the key practices of leadership is communication. We previously defined leadership as influence and described some of the practices of leadership. As leaders we seek to build, inspire, challenge, enable, and encourage. These practices are all interrelated. Especially as we attempt to inspire, engage, and empower, we as leaders must communicate in a way that connects with the people around us and draws them into our vision for the goals that we wish to accomplish.
If we are not communicating well, we run the risk of confusing or disempowering the people around us. The potential fallout is a disenchanted workforce, resulting in grumbling or speculation, lost productivity, and higher turnover.
Often communication is the final step in a decision process and can sometimes be slapdash as we move on to the next thing. Instead, communication should be carefully thought out as our ability to implement hinges on our ability to first communicate. Rather than just communicating a decision or direction, it is essential to bring the audience up to speed by first explaining the issue, then the decision-making process, and finally the action steps required. Those who have not been intimately involved in the decision process might be left confused by an edict from above without an explanation. If we desire buy-in, we must carefully craft and deliver our communication of the message.
Great leaders are great communicators. In order to build a team with a shared vision that works in a collaborative fashion, they must be great communicators. Some of the elements of communication that are essential for leaders to demonstrate are clarity, candor, consistency, congruency, and connection.
Clarity—Leaders must communicate clearly at a level that is easily understood by the audience.
- Be proactive. People left in the dark wander from the vision and waste energy speculating.
- Understand the purpose of every communication; define the objective.
- Make it simple and concise, understandable to the audience, and focused on the objective. Communicate specifics not ambiguity.
- It’s not just the “what” but also the “how” of communicating—appropriate to the purpose and with authority.
Candor—Leaders need to be trusted in order to be followed.
- Speak the truth. Transparency builds trust.
- Be honest and authentic. Communicate from the heart.
- Admit mistakes. People don’t relate to those pretending to be perfect, they relate to those that are human and humble.
- Be willing to embrace the negative—both to admit it and to hear it.
Consistency—Maintain a continual flow of information to stay connected.
- Develop and implement a communication plan that schedules periodic communication, both written and verbal, to institutionalize communications.
- Make a point of communicating with both the larger audience and on an individual basis with people throughout the organization.
- Another part of consistency is making certain that the message continually reflects the culture.
Congruency—Communication is more than just the words you write or speak.
- In speaking, both to individuals as well as to a group, be sure that your body language reflects the message that you are seeking to deliver.
- In written communications, check the tone as well as the words you use.
Connection—Communication is more than speaking and writing; leaders need to know and relate to their audience.
- Communication is not just distributing information, it includes listening to understand and perceiving emotions and attitudes.
- In individual communications, read body language.
- Speak to the concerns of the listener; know the context.
- Promote two-way communication and solicit feedback.
If we are programming robots to complete certain tasks, they only need very specific commands. If we desire that those around us should think, innovate, and take initiative, we need to be intentional and committed to clear and effective communication. Only with good communication can we hope to inspire and empower those around us.
The six key practices of leadership that we are discussing in this series do not exist in isolation from one another. To inspire those around us to achieve the vision and purpose of the group involves elements of building the team and the people around us, as well as communicating, challenging, enabling, and encouraging. In the next article in this leadership series we will dive deeper into the how leaders challenge those around them.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.
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