Key Principles of Leadership Communication

Key Principles of Leadership Communication

November 02, 2017 - Dom Barnard

In any business role or function, you must be able to convey your ideas and vision in ways that drive effective decision-making, teamwork, and action. The greatest leaders motivate and inspire their team through clear communication, while also promoting discipline, accountability and strategic alignment.

The sharing of information is extremely important to an organisation and often becomes harder as it grows. The senior leaders need to set the example by communicating information, being as transparent as possible, and establishing trust. It’s very hard for an organisation to thrive if information is being kept in departmental silos.

Some key benefits of good communication skills for leaders include:

  • Ability to deliver messages that inspire your audience to take action
  • Confidence when presenting ideas and the company vision to your team
  • Effectively conveying your insights and recommendations

Communication starts when you take over a new leadership role and need to describe your leadership philosophy, priorities and goals for the organization. In this article, we cover communication principles and techniques used by the world’s most successful managers.

Be visible within the organisation

Visibility is about letting your team and key stakeholders get a feel for who you are and what you care about. It’s easy to hide behind a computer and send messages to others without seeing or interacting with them. Spend some time face-to-face with employees and other members of the company, visit offices, call centres, visit stores and other locations. It shows people that you care about them and the more visible you are, the better you'll be able to lead.

Explain complex strategy as simply as possible

Break down complex thoughts and strategies into simple concepts your employees can relate to. The more memorable, the better. If you’re having trouble distilling something to its essence, it’s a sign that you may not have a clear understanding of it. That makes it impossible for you to communicate it to others effectively. Try not to get caught up in technical jargon and business-speak.

When simplifying your objectives, be careful not to be vague with what you want from your team, make sure they know exactly what you expect and when you expect it. If they don’t understand what you’re saying to them they won’t know what they should be doing. You lose productivity when they have to circle back around to you for clarification on important information.

Leader explaining complex strategy with a presentation

Listen actively – effective communication is two-way

Good leaders know how to ask great questions, and then listen with both their eyes and ears. It’s easy to be so focused on getting your message out, or persuading others, that you don’t tune in to what you see and hear. Because you’re in a position of authority, you won’t always get direct feedback. You’ll need to both listen to what is being said and study non-verbal cues such as body language, in order to tell you what you need to know.

Examples of active listening

  • Paraphrasing - "So, you want us to change the message of the marketing campaign?"
  • Brief verbal affirmation - "I appreciate the time you’ve taken to speak to me"
  • Asking open-ended questions - "I understand you aren’t happy with current management decisions. What changes would you recommend?"
  • Asking specific questions - "How long will you take to finish the website front-end?"
  • Mentioning similar situations - "I was in a similar situation after my previous company launched an ICO."
  • Summarise questions - A manager who summarises their understanding of an unclear objective during a team meeting.
  • Notice people speaking - A senior leader encouraging a quiet team member to share their views about a project.
  • Summarise group conversations - A manager summarizing what has been said at a meeting and checking with the others that it is correct.

If you say you’ll do something, do it

Make sure you follow up with what you say you’ll do. This is all about credibility, which boils down to trust, one of the most important elements of leadership. Your actions need to align with your words otherwise you’ll be in a lot of trouble, particularly if you don’t recognize and correct it quickly and genuinely.

It can be hard to get feedback on this from your team so ask a colleague to tell you if there are any discrepancies between what you say and do. It’s probably better to say nothing or delay your communication until you’re certain that you’ll be able to follow through with action.

Be yourself, genuine and honest

The best leaders have learned that effective communication is as much about authenticity as it’s about the words they speak and write.

Don’t try to be someone else, let your values come through in your communication and use language that’s distinctly your own. People want real. People respect real. People follow real. If your employees don’t respect you, they won’t listen to you.

If you communicate openly and honestly, you will make some mistakes but those mistakes will be better than the uninspiring communications in many companies. There will also be times when you don't have the answer and it’s fine to admit that you don’t. Your employees will respect your courage and honesty.

It’s easier to be genuine if you see things from your employees perspective - put yourself in their mindset. Try to understand why they are saying or behaving as they are.

Practice communication skills

It’s crucial to practice delivery of high-impact messages, so that they are memorable and motivating. Good communication skills do not come naturally for most people. Many people, including business leaders and managers, need to practice repeatedly in order to improve their skills.

Effective ways to practice

  • Coaching
  • Training days and seminars
  • Virtual reality
  • Friends or trusted colleagues
  • Solo with a video camera or voice recorder

Be conscious of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication techniques involve presence, body language, and delivery. Research has shown people pay much less attention to the words that are said and much more attention to the actions and non-verbal cues that accompany those words.

Non-verbal cues include facial expressions, use of hand motions, body posture and eye contact. Leaders should aim to match what they are saying with their non-verbal cues, in this way they’ll build stronger rapport and appear more believable.

Non-verbal communication is important for leadership

Ask the right questions

Ask the right questions that will foster productive and useful communication between the team. If you have built up a smart team around you with a variety of domain knowledge, asking questions will help you learn very quickly from them. By guiding a conversation with a specific goal in mind, we accomplish much more by leveraging the talent surrounding us.

Speak less, listen more

An important aspect of communication is the ability to actively listen as we mentioned earlier. Active listening involves concentrating only on the speaker and ignoring outside interruptions, including the listener's own thoughts or possible responses. Active listeners also refrain from interrupting, give the speaker time to finish, show they are listening by doing things like nodding or smiling, and reflect or paraphrase back to verify their understanding.

We often find ourselves in the bad habit of thinking about what we are going to say next as opposed to actually listening to the other people speaking. When we do that, we aren't truly engaged in the conversation. You often notice that the wisest people listen more than they speak. The less we talk, the more we will learn from those around us.

Use storytelling

Telling stories helps create meaning and can be shared among colleagues. It’s also much more memorable. You can also learn a lot by listening to employees stories, such as any concerns or issues they are struggling with.

Key benefits of storytelling

  • Energizing, persuasive, entertaining, moving and memorable
  • Stories are easier to remember than facts or data
  • Establish credibility and authenticity through telling the stories that they are living
  • Well adapted to handling the most intractable leadership challenges of today – sparking change, communicating who you are, enhancing the brand, transmitting values, creating high-performance teams, sharing knowledge, leading people in to the future
  • Storytelling translates dry and abstract numbers into compelling pictures of a leader’s goals.
  • When faced with the task of persuading a group of managers or front-line staff in a large organization to get enthusiastic about a major change, storytelling is the only thing that works
  • Storytelling can inspire people to act in exceptional ways
  • When a story reaches our hearts with deep meaning, it takes hold of us

Build teamwork through communication

If you build a great team, you can accomplish just about anything, that’s why VC’s and other investors focus so much on the initial team. Strong communication lets you attract great team members, as you’ll be able to sell a compelling vision for the future. Once you’ve build up a team, communication helps you retain it, by keeping everyone aligned with the vision and understand what’s required of them.

Build teamwork through communication skills

Be present when in conversation

Business executives, entrepreneurs and leaders usually have days with little to no downtime. They rush from meetings to conference calls, rarely taking the time to clear their heads and reset for the next item on their agenda. However, most studies show that humans are truly productive for only a few minutes each hour.

It’s important therefore that when you’re chatting with a colleague on the way to a meeting, on a conference call with team members or leading a company meeting, you are actively present in the moment. Be engaged with your audience no matter how trivial you think the conversation may be.

Keep your team aligned

As a leader, you have a responsibility to make sure your colleagues know what your vision and objections for the team are. Often we’ll say something and find out later that it was misunderstood.

A good leader has a responsibility to make sure that their subordinates know and understand what they told them and what their priorities are. The priorities may change frequently, so you have to give people the authority to come back to you for clarification without fear of being reprimanded.

In Summary

As a leader, great communication is critical not just to provide details about the objectives and vision of what you are trying to accomplish, but also to motivate, inspire and manage relationships to move people in a desired direction.

When in a leadership position, we often don't realize that the spotlight is always on us. Everything we say and do is being scrutinized, for better or for worse. Words and actions can become habits and habits contribute to defining our character. Leadership is a privilege that must be earned every day.

Remember that fundamentally, the principles of communication drive all business interactions.