One of the most important characteristics of good leaders is the ability to communicate effectively. When you’re in a leadership role, you continually interact with people at many different levels. You need to be able to think clearly, listen to what’s being shared by others, and express information and ideas in many different settings.
Good communication in leadership offers numerous benefits, including:
and even higher revenue.
To help you with your communication efforts, review what leadership communication is and what successful leaders do below.
What is Leadership Communication?
Leadership communication involves the kinds of communication used by leaders to convey messages about specific tasks, the department’s workflow, the company’s culture and vision, employee values, and others, as well as gathering feedback about their own work or company policies.
Essentially, leadership communication is a tool that helps leaders do their job in the most competent and people-centered way possible.
Through effective communication practices, leaders can guarantee that all employees understand their role within the organization and the shared vision that binds everyone together. This way, employees and management feel aligned with the company’s purpose, which leads to an established sense of trust, collaboration, and higher productivity.
The Most Essential Communication Skills for Leaders
It takes more than just gut feeling to communicate effectively in the workplace. To make use of such a powerful tool as leadership communication, leaders must develop an extensive set of skills which aid in conveying messages and gathering feedback effectively. Below are the abilities we find to be the most helpful:
Any good communicator, whether they are in a leadership position or not, is a good listener. They have the ability to completely focus on the person in front of them and make it clear they are truly listening.
Too many people are distracted by emails and other device notifications, their to-do lists, and everything else they have going on. Focusing on listening to what team members say ensures they do not feel dismissed or ignored. Instead, they will appreciate that you take time to hear them and genuinely want to help. What’s more, they are likely to spread the word that you always have time to focus on their latest question or concern.
To assist your active listening efforts, consider doing the following:
Silencing your phone and other devices
Putting up an away message on your email and other communication channels, such as Slack
Focusing on maintaining eye contact
Avoiding body language that can make you seem disinterested, such as crossing your arms and legs
Scheduling blocks of time during the week when your office door is “open” and team members can come talk to you about concerns or problems
Asking open-ended questions that spark conversations and requesting clarification whenever it is necessary
Refraining from interrupting or making judgmental comments
Providing solutions before hearing the entire problem/suggestion/proposal
Offering encouragement when it is warranted
Authenticity always goes a long way. No matter who you’re speaking to, using your own voice and personality matters. To be successful in your role, you need to be in touch with your own beliefs and values, and your values shouldn’t be compromised in order to be aligned with the goals and visions of the organization.
Employees are typically more willing to be honest and express themselves when they are in the presence of a genuine individual who is always forthright with them. Honest communication contributes to optimal productivity, because everyone is on the same proverbial page and understands what they need to do to provide the best work possible.
Therefore, be honest and as open as you can in your communications. Those you’re communicating with can often tell when you’re being inauthentic, and when that happens, trust can break down and employees can end up disloyal and unmotivated. It can be very difficult to communicate effectively when there’s a lack of trust.
Vague language and missing information are hardly hallmarks of transparency. If team members constantly wonder what is going on, they might not perform to the best of their abilities. The risk of assignment and project errors subsequently increases, which can result in productivity slowdowns and revenue losses.
Since transparency is one of the essentials of leadership communication, aim to be as transparent as you can, whenever you can. Ensure all assignments are detailed and let team members know they can ask questions at any time. Explain any changes to the company as they come and tell employees you will provide more information when you can.
Another essential of leadership communication is consistency. If you are constantly “changing the rules” or never follow the rules you create, it is difficult for team members to maintain respectful attitudes. Consistency should include keeping up a professional demeanor, never playing favorites, following up on promises and announcements, and maintaining a good work ethic. Staying organized and providing kind reminders about work orders are also helpful.
If you provide a good example and stick with it, it is likely your team will follow suit. The same cannot be said of inconsistency, as it sends a message to your team that the work does not matter and neither does their attitude about the workplace.
Staying consistent does not mean you have to forgo adaptability. Being able to make changes in light of different assignments and projects demonstrates adaptability, though you can still welcome feedback.
Leaders are expected to interact with many different types of people and adaptability is a requirement for effective communication and leadership. On any given day, you may need to communicate with employees, supervisors, investors, vendors and customers. Your communication style may need to adapt to the audience you’re speaking to.
Spend some time thinking about how well you’re navigating interactions with people in different roles and whether you need to be more adaptable in some situations. Your communication with others needs to go beyond just relaying information. Enthusiasm and good storytelling skills can inspire and motivate others while self-confidence can help to influence others.
A good way to improve leadership skills is to work on increasing your self-awareness. Being in touch with your own strengths and weaknesses can serve as the foundation of effective communication and leadership. Is your approach to communication leading to interest and engagement from others? Are you projecting a confident demeanor?
Consider the effectiveness of your choice of words and body language. During a presentation, avoid speaking in a monotone or using corporate speak. Work on communicating with clarity and enthusiasm and on projecting optimism and a positive attitude. Keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words.
Attaining effective communication and leadership skills requires being open to learning and practicing whenever possible. The best leaders recognize that the ability to lead and motivate others can always be improved. Different interactions offer new opportunities to improve your ability to communicate with others. Being teachable and interested in learning new skills and improving skills you already have is a great way to set an example for your staff.
Good communication in leadership requires being visible. If you never appear approachable or always have your office door closed, employees are less likely to come to you about, well, anything. If team members feel like they cannot talk to you, productivity suffers.
Assignments and projects might have missing information or feature the wrong information. Deadlines can whoosh by because employees aren’t sure if they were changed or not. Emails can go unread. These and similar issues are easily avoidable when you increase your visibility.
If you are currently concerned you are not as visible to team members as you should be, consider implementing an open door policy. It’s also a good idea to meet with team members personally to discuss any questions or issues they have, and to always introduce yourself to new hires.
Walking about the office asking employees how their work day is going and if they require help is another winning possibility. All of these tactics show you are interested in accepting feedback and using it to help the company grow and thrive.
How to Improve Your Leadership Communication Skills
It might feel overwhelming to learn about all of the communication skills that you need to cultivate to become a better leader, but don’t worry. There are a few simple actions that you can take that can make a world of difference in your self-development process:
Prepare Ahead of Time
Whether you’re participating in a discussion with other leaders, putting on a presentation or leading a meeting with your own team, the more thoroughly you prepare ahead of time, the more likely you’ll be able to communicate clearly and have an impact on others. Preparing ahead of time doesn’t guarantee success, but not being prepared makes it more likely you could be setting yourself up for failure.
Know the most important points you need to make in meetings and spend some time thinking about the best way to get your point across. Consider who the audience is and the best way to get them interested in your message. Does the audience need a relaxed approach to help them pay attention, or would a direct, businesslike approach be more effective?
Communicating information effectively depends on your own grasp of what you’re talking about. If you’re providing job training to a new employee, make sure you have a handle on exactly what needs to be done and why. If you’re putting on a presentation, the better you understand the subject, the more prepared you are to answer any questions that come up.
In any situation, the more thoroughly you understand the why behind the things you’re communicating, the more clarity you’ll be able to bring. Whether your message is written or verbal, know the purpose of your communication and take the time to plan ahead to make sure you say what you mean to say.
Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication
To be effective in a leadership role, it’s important to be aware of the fact that words are part of the way people communicate, but they’re not the only part. People communicate non-verbally in many different ways, giving off signals that may differ from the words they’re saying. This includes tone of voice, facial expression and body language.
Think about the signals you’re giving to other people. Your tone of voice, how much eye contact you make, your facial expression and your posture are just a few of the nonverbal messages you’re sending out. Work on being aware of your own body language. Are your nonverbal signals putting people at ease or causing them to feel offended? Are you talking too softly or too loudly? Your posture is a signal to others about whether you’re paying attention and whether you’re comfortable in a given situation.
If you’re saying one thing but your body language is saying something else, it may make it hard for others to trust you. Sending out the right signals can help to strengthen the message you’re trying to communicate. Sending out the wrong signals is contradictory.
To be effective in leadership and communication, it’s crucial that you pay attention to subtle cues people are giving you. Whether you’re talking to someone you know well or a complete stranger, you probably have a good idea what they’re feeling based on the expression on their face. Work on being empathetic and accurately read the emotions people are experiencing.
Body language and other forms of non-verbal communication are an important part of the way people communicate. Watch for inconsistencies between words and behavior. Work on recognizing when you might be sending out unintentional signals.
Focus on Clarity
Clear wording, whether in emails, memos, project guidelines, or any other forms of written communication need to be clear. Crystal clear, for that matter. Vague wording does nothing except frustrate your team and create an onslaught of questions.
When you’re talking about a topic that you’re very familiar with, you may have a tendency to speak too fast or in terms that are too complex. If people don’t seem to be following what you’re telling them, you may need to slow down. Encourage people to ask questions when they aren’t keeping up.
Employees who miss performance goals may experience low morale or feel stressed. You may be able to help them feel more engaged and inspired just by working on delivering clearer information.
Learn to Have Difficult Conversations
In order to be a good communicator in leadership, you must be skilled in having difficult conversations. This may mean:
letting an employee know their performance is falling short, and delivering this information in a way that can lead to constructive improvements;
initiating discussions between people who are in conflict and taking charge of navigating the best way to find a solution when emotions are running high;
laying off some of your staff or having to tell people that their job duties are going to change dramatically.
It’s natural to want to avoid unpleasant conversations, but chances are you can’t bypass these conversations forever. Difficult conversations need to be faced head-on. It’s not an option to avoid communicating with people because it’s uncomfortable.
Whatever difficult conversations you have to have, you need the ability to articulate what needs to be said in a way that gets the message across without being condescending or insulting. During difficult conversations, it’s especially important to give others your undivided attention. Practice empathy and try to be understanding about challenges others may be facing.
At the same time, you may need to be firm if there’s pushback about criticism or unwanted changes. Effective leadership requires good communication skills and confidence in your own ability to handle challenging situations.
Work on Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is an important trait for anyone who aims to be a good communicator in leadership. This means you’re in touch with your own emotions and can manage them, particularly when confronted with stressful situations.
Effective leaders are empathetic toward others and sensitive toward their feelings. Things that are happening to people outside work can affect their performance and productivity. Work on trying to see things from another person’s perspective. Offer encouragement and appreciation whenever you can.
Perceiving what others are feeling goes beyond words. When you have emotional intelligence, you can recognize subtle signals people might send with body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. Think about what signals you may be sending to others with your own body language.
Practical Tips for Better Leadership Communication
Additionally, there are other more collaborative ways to improve the way that you communicate with the employees who are under your leadership that don’t involve working on your own skills. We have selected a few simple actions that can make a world of difference in the dynamics of your department:
Create an “Open Door” Policy
If employees feel like they can never ask you anything or discuss various concerns, group communication and overall productivity take hits. By letting team members know that your office door is always open, even if it is not physically open, communication will improve. For example, if a team member has a question about a project that will affect its outcome, talking to you about it before getting started is vital to success.
An open door policy also helps you build a rapport with your team and make it clear that they can trust you. Mutual trust is essential to the success of any company, because it keeps the communication lines open and dampens “disgruntled employee” issues that can cause distractions and productivity dips.
Be Transparent About Tasks
Group communication suffers if team members are unclear about their specific tasks. Your entire team should know exactly what their responsibilities are and the related deadlines, as it avoids miscommunication and frustration.
To ensure everyone in a large group knows what they have to do, have a meeting, whether in person or via video chat, for assignment purposes. Once everyone understands their duties, schedule periodic follow-up meetings where everyone gets to discuss their progress, ask questions, and talk about any issues they are experiencing.
Depending on the size of your group, having several meetings with smaller groups might be ideal. You can also have one-on-one meetings periodically to ensure everyone stays on schedule.
Constructive feedback is helpful, as it allows the recipient to think critically about their assignment or project, and what they can do better.
You might want to engage in public feedback forums every so often, so long as everyone remains polite and respectful. Such forums allow everyone to learn from each other’s feedback and approach projects from more creative or technical points of view. Team members should leave these sessions feeling inspired and ready to tackle their latest assignment, not embarrassed and rejected. If the latter issues occur, consider rethinking the public feedback policy and opting for smaller groups or one-on-one feedback instead.
People want to be seen, heard and acknowledged for their efforts. Showing appreciation to staff is a great way to boost morale and show that hard work is noticed and appreciated. Be empathetic about any challenges people are facing both inside and outside work. Leaders who neglect to show appreciation communicate a message that there’s no point in hard work or coming up with innovative ideas.
Respond in a Timely Manner
Responding to emails, phone calls, text messages, and carrier pigeons (okay, maybe not the last one) quickly is another element of effective leadership communication. It shows your team and everyone else you deal with, such as suppliers, affiliates, clients, and fellow managers, that you care about why they are contacting you and take it seriously.
While it is not always possible to respond immediately due to other work commitments, aim to respond within 30 minutes to an hour whenever you can. If you cannot provide a detailed response for any reason, you can still acknowledge the email and let the recipient know you will respond further as soon as you are able. They will appreciate you taking the time to do so.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Your attitude makes a huge difference when it comes to successful leadership communication. It helps you appear approachable to your team, something a negative attitude does not provide.
If your employees are afraid to speak with you or simply don’t want to because of “bad energy vibes,” communication decreases and the risk of work errors is higher. Maintaining a cheerful disposition makes it clear you are there to help your team whenever they need it for optimal production levels.
As important as it is to be positive and cheerful, it is just as important to be professional. Talking about personal matters in the workplace with your employees is inappropriate and can cause them to lose respect for you.
Remaining professional at all times makes it clear that you are in charge and while you are there to provide assistance however you can, you are not anyone’s friend. This side steps favoritism accusations, among similar problems that can result in Human Resources inquiries. Work is work, and that’s it. If you want to socialize with your team, do it when none of you are “on the clock,” such as at work events. However, it’s still a good idea to avoid getting too personal!
Take Advantage of Project Management Software
Project management software lets team members track their assignments and projects, allowing them to provide detailed updates about their progress whenever it’s warranted. If you have yet to select a type of project management software, provide several options and ask team members to vote on which software they like best. They will appreciate you wanting their input and will feel more in control of communication efforts.
It also helps to use communication channels, such as Slack, that help team members stay on top of assignments and add their input to group chats. Such channels also provide opportunities for fun, such as a slack dedicated to employee pets. Providing team members with engaging “virtual breaks” helps them come back to their projects feeling refreshed.
Leveraging Your Leadership Communication with PLA
Options for improving communications skills are everywhere, from webinars and books to coaching and videos. Working with people with expertise in communication can help you recognize what you need to work on and where you can get started. Whether you’ve been in a leadership role for many years or you’re new to leadership, there’s always room for improvement.