Importance of communication skills for leadership
In these modern times, the need for connectivity between a leader and their customers and employees both is vital and, therefore, both internal and external communications are critical to produce worthy business results
According to a 2016 study by Interact Studio and Harris Poll, “69% of managers say there is something about their role as a leader that makes them uncomfortable communicating with their employees.”
The root of the problem vests in the misconception about the true meaning of the term `leadership’; perhaps in the mind of leaders themselves too. Leadership is not a synonym for power or control; it’s about acknowledging the fact that any organisation, be it for profit or not for profit, small or large, cannot achieve their mission by virtue of the credentials of their leader alone. It’s about the human capital: all those human elements in the organisation who together with their leader strive towards a common goal. It might be apt to say that true leaders derive their power from the people they lead, and they will be able to lead people only when they can effectively communicate with them and inspire them to be on the same page as themselves.
According to a recent article titled `How Great Leaders Communicate’ published in November 2022 in the Harvard Business Review, transformational leaders are exceptional communicators and effective communication skills are a prerequisite to becoming a successful leader. This brings us to the need to deliberate over the why, what and how to effective communication.
Why is communication important for leaders?
In these modern times, the need for connectivity between a leader and their customers and employees both is vital and, therefore, both internal and external communications are critical to produce worthy business results.
- External Communications: These consist of messages related to a company’s culture, core values, vision and mission statement and are significant to the key external stakeholders including customers and strategic partners.
- Internal Communications: These are messages, come from the leaders, directed towards the employees, with the purpose of cultivating a sense of trust and ownership in the workplace to keeping employees engaged and motivated.
How to hone the essential communication skills that leaders must possess?
- A good leader is one who fosters an environment for free and open communication, engages with people, and develops a rapport with them. Open door policy, family outings with staff, a quick discussion over a meal, a coffee break with staff or simply getting to know the personal side of people; all these help break the ice and develop a bond between staff and leaders.
- Lead by example – the more the leaders communicate with their people, the more it fosters a community of mutual valuing of communication.
- Tailor the message according to the audience to have the desired impact and make sure to make the messaging clear. The more clear the messaging by the leader, the lesser the chances of confusion in the minds of the staff. Being concise has advantages too. For instance, meetings are a regular mode of internal communications but long meetings can at times be counter productive. Staff may lose interest or may want to go back home for some family commitment and are therefore distracted, so keeping the meeting short is the way to go for making your communication effective. Research indicates that our attention span is between 10-18 minutes, so innovative organisations like TED keep their meetings for a maximum time limit of 18 minutes.
- Choose channels of communication wisely. Know when to use verbal or non-verbal communication. Communication is not just about what you say to people, but it is also about how you say it and the way you conduct yourself. To ensure you are conveying the right message, focus on your body language and tone – it can make a huge difference to the way your communication is absorbed by the audience. This is true for all communication, but for leaders more so, making eye contact with your team members, smiling as you speak to them, addressing them by first name; all these techniques convey warmth and trust.
- Communication is not a one-way street; hearing others is sometimes more important than speaking. Interestingly, Starbucks discovered new menu items after they heard some of their employees talking about them. Following quick research, and within 24 hours, Starbucks came up with a new menu including those items on the list. For leaders then, listening might well be the `star’ skill to have the `bucks’ roll in.
- Be an empathetic listener. Empathy is almost a non-negotiable for good leadership. People want to be acknowledged, heard and respected and the more the leader empathises with their feelings, the more valued they will feel.
- Disagreements are normal, but if the leader stays respectful and exhibits the willingness to adapt, the battle is half won. Be receptive to feedback and, if possible, integrate it into future plans. This will build trust among the workforce. But sometimes all feedback may not fit in with the organisation’s needs: In such case, a good leader must be transparent about the reasons, yet voice their value for the feedback provided.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Leaders should share ideas, plans, thoughts and keep the communication going. A good leader is one who when faced with the choice between overcommunication and under-communication, will always choose the former.
In a nutshell, leadership is all about leading a group of diverse individuals towards a common goal. Excellent communication starts at the top and a good leader is one who prioritises how they communicate with their colleagues to ensure that they stay motivated and perform to their best potential.