Successful leadership and excellent, effective communication go hand in hand, but how do you improve your communication skills if your message isn’t getting through?
One does not exist without the other.
I’m often drafted in to support leaders looking to improve their communications skills as the cracks start to appear, and they realise the business is not going in the direction they want.
Once a company has got to that point, it is not easy to turn the ship around.
No one sets out to communicate poorly, but there are several factors that can impact on its success. A study by the Economist highlights time pressures and unclear responsibilities amongst its top causes of poor communication.
Excellent communication is something successful leaders work on a great deal because they understand its value and its importance.
A survey quoted in the LinkedIn put the cost of poor communication at over £62m a year for larger companies and over £300k for smaller businesses. While the financial repercussions are high, the broader impact on company culture, which leads to low morale, missed performance goals and many other issues, is arguably worse in the long term.
Why is effective communication essential to leadership?
A leader’s job is not to do, but to inspire. Some inspire by doing, but that can only last so long. As your business grows, it becomes clear that you cannot do everything, and you need to inspire your team to develop the same passion and desire as you, in order to succeed.
But conveying that vision and purpose requires an effective communicator. It takes someone who will engender trust within the team and provide a clear pathway to success. Not something everyone is capable of without the right guidance and support.
So we have drafted a list of five critical areas for leaders that will help improve communication skills.
One of the biggest grumbles I find from employees when I help an organisation with their communication is that people don’t know what the strategy is. Mixed messages lead to a lack of focus and a drop in performance.
Great leaders can deal with a multitude of information and deliver it clearly and concisely. Whether it is the future strategy of the business or the milestones for the next project, a simple message will suffice.
A large part of what we do in our training is to help leaders to construct their message. Delivery is essential but building out the content into an ‘easy to consume’ presentation or address is critical.
Being agile enough to adapt to your audience is vital for anyone wishing to communicate effectively; this is especially true of leaders.
Developing this ability is at the very heart of everything I teach. Situations will change; audiences will differ; people will consume information in a range of different ways.
The secret to adaptability as a communicator is preparation. If you have one style and you plan to force that upon every audience you talk to, you will fail.
Preparing before you arrive, understanding the makeup of the audience, getting to know the challenges and successes they have will help you to emphasise or manage some aspects of your communication that will improve delivery.
The most successful organisations communicate with their staff openly and honestly. One of the most significant issues for employees, and something that inspires lack-lustre performance, is not feeling trusted and empowered by leadership.
A good leader will communicate successes and failures and have the confidence to trust their employees to manage the information maturely.
Transparency is particularly pertinent at the moment as we deal with the fall out of the COVID19 pandemic. Many organisations will be facing tremendous change and unimaginable financial challenges. Being able to talk openly about the business and how you are dealing with this change will encourage your employees to speak up and potentially help find solutions.
When I’m asked how to improve communication skills either by a business leader or someone looking to progress up the corporate ladder, I find a lot of people forget about their body language.
A large proportion of any message is non-verbal. Some studies suggest non-verbal communication carries anywhere between 65% – 93% more impact than verbal.
So when you are delivering your weekly address to the office, or leading a team meeting, or even addressing the whole organisation at your annual sales conference, the way you hold yourself and address the audience is critical.
Non-verbal cues include all aspects that surround you. It could be what you are wearing; your facial expressions; your eye contact; your movement if you are standing; or how you sit during your address.
It could be the tone of your voice which can indicate your mindset, and indirectly affect audience participation.
There is a range of different cues, and we can help you to manage them.
A good leader knows when to talk but more importantly when to listen. Successful communication is always two way. You will get feedback from the audience during any address, and a confident leader will know when to stop talking and to listen to their audience.
Just as critical, however, is action. Showing that you care about your team’s input, taking on board the points made and actioning them will build trust. Even if some of the suggestions aren’t practical, or actionable, feeding back will be valued.
Never stop communicating
Being a leader is relentless. Which means you are never finished communicating. It is not a case that the strategy is out there or the project plan is live, and everyone has heard from me, so my work here is done.
Excellent communication relies upon regularity, consistency and being two-way.
So just when you think you have done enough, keep going. Your team and your organisation will benefit from it.