All professionals know that communication skills are important, but how often do we really break that down? Especially when it comes to leaders, communication plays a major role in their efficacy and success. So, what do we mean by communication skills? Are some more challenging than others? And how can we work to improve them? This week, I want to look at four key communication skills for leaders. It’s easy to take certain elements of communication for granted, but these are skills that can’t afford to be overlooked.
I put this skill first because often when we talk about communication skills, we focus on our ability to express ourselves. For all professionals, and leaders, in particular, listening is the foundation for strong communication. Without strong listening, none of our other skills can be fully effective. As a leader, listening helps you stay connected to and in touch with your team. It sets a precedent for open communication. It allows you to take in feedback, learn new things, and continue evolving. Having good listening skills means being present in your conversations. It means asking questions, and genuinely listening to full answers, not immediately starting to plan your own. When leaders prioritize this aspect of communication, they earn the respect of their employees and create an environment in which their team can thrive.
Though empathy isn’t always something we consider as a skill, in the context of communication, it’s valuable to look at it that way. For leaders to succeed, they need to understand their team members. They need to be able to assess their strengths and weaknesses, help them navigate challenges, and provide the type of guidance that inspires and empowers. To do this, they need to be able to empathize when communicating with team members. By putting themselves in their employees’ positions, leaders ensure they stay grounded and connected. Approaching conversations with this skill, especially more challenging conversations, can have a powerful impact on the outcome.
Your team members are looking to you for guidance, inspiration, and example. They’re looking to you to define expectations, clarify goals, and drive progress. For leaders to do these things, they need to communicate with confidence. This means voicing their ideas clearly, being straight forward, and establishing themselves as someone team members can look to. Leaders who are unclear in expressing their expectations or wishy-washy on their goals often get subpar results from their team.
Finally, tuning in to the more subtle dimensions of communication can help leaders take their skills to the next level. First, consider your own body language. Do you have the body language of a leader? Tall posture, an open stance, and comfortable eye contact, for example, help leaders communicate their position of authority without needing to make a fuss about it. Beyond expressing their own messages through body language, leaders who also tune in to the body language of their team members can often gain a new perspective into where their guidance is most needed.
Though public speaking and articulate writing often get a great deal of the focus when it comes to communication skills, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. For leaders who want to empower their teams and communicate with precision, exploring the complexities of their communication skills is key. When you think about your own communication skills, which are the most important in your role as a leader? I’d love to hear your thoughts.