4 communication skills for leaders

Two women sit opposite each other at a table, they are having a conversation and both have notepads and pens in front of them

The skills that your leaders have as communicators are particularly important during tough times and times of change. The current pressures on many organisations are exactly the sort of scenario when you need to be able to rely on them to create supportive, psychologically safe cultures so that everyone can come together.

Skills leaders need

There are many different skills which leaders need to develop and use to support their people to contribute their best. Decision-making, setting an example, empowering others, willing to take risks and admit mistakes; these are all important.

Another key area is communication. Without effective communication, an organisation will not succeed: employees will be confused, disengaged, not know what they are doing, work in silos. It’s not just down to the leader to be a good communicator, but the tone has to be set from the top.

So what are the communication skills that leaders must demonstrate? Here are the 4 main ones that I believe they need:

1. Listening

I have written previously about my belief that effective communicators listen to understand, rather than reply. It is key that leaders listen to the people around their organisation who know what is happening at all levels – these are the pieces of the jigsaw that make up the overall picture. Just because you’re at the top, doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. It is your job to find out what you don’t know.

2. Painting a picture of the future

Equally, you do need to have some answers. As a leader you need to be able to articulate a compelling vision of where your organisation is going, in order to inspire and engage your people to work together to get there.

It is the skill of the leader to make that future as clear and easy to understand as possible, so that people know where they are going. You can then support them to work out the details of what they can do to contribute to that future, empowering them to make decisions within the framework of the picture you have painted.

3. Prepared to have difficult conversations when they’re needed (and be kind)

Another communication skill demonstrated by successful leaders is the ability to have the tricky conversations, as well as the easy ones.

Sometimes an individual or department will be underperforming; sometimes funding will run out; sometimes difficult decisions have to be taken. Shying away from discussing these issues is not a helpful, healthy or kind approach. Avoiding difficult conversations, especially about things that everyone knows are going on, communicates the message that you are not interested or are not up to the leader’s job. This does not contribute to a successful organisation.

Remember that having difficult conversations can still be done in a kind way. There are ways to have these tricky conversations that acknowledge the human beings involved, that has empathy for the emotions and impact generated. Difficult does not equal cruel.

4. Being authentic

Many years ago when I was looking for a primary school for my daughter, I visited all the local schools to get a feel for them. At one school, I was shown around by a head teacher who greeted every child in the corridor by name; a nice touch you might think, showing he knew all his pupils.

Except that the bewildered, slightly concerned look on every child’s face told me that this was an unusual occurrence that they did not normally experience. The inauthenticity of trying to pretend he was more involved than he was did not land well – with me or the children.

For your employees to trust you and want to engage with you, it’s important that you are consistent and genuine in the way you communicate with them. They will quickly put up barriers between you if you don’t.

The role of communicators

If you are a communicator, HR or L&D team member within an organisation, how can you support your leaders to develop and use these skills? I challenge you to think about the ways that you can support them. It will make a big difference to your organisation’s success during difficult times.

What leadership communication skills would you add to this list? How do your leaders communicate? If you would like help in developing their – or your – skills, please get in touch. Better communication skills = better organisational resilience.

Until next time

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