The recently-released State of the Sector report from Gatehouse comes to some rather alarming conclusions about the internal comms skills of line managers (and the support they receive). Whilst I agree that line managers are a key group, we also need to remember how important our leaders’ communication skills are.
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:
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
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 or healthy 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.
4. Being authentic
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.
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.
Until next time