Resuming my series on the Qualities of Leadership, the next topic is Communication. Along with Honesty, Humility, and Vision, the first three topics in this series, effective leaders usually communicate well with the people around them. While this can mean skill in public speaking, it isn’t always the case. Communication is such a broad term, it bears some analysis in how it bears on leadership.
Leaders must communicate well with multiple groups of people in order to be successful:
- Management — effective leaders must be able to communicate with their superiors during all phases of an activity. Leaders must communicate their vision — getting buy-in from senior management in order to get a new initiative started. During the course of the initiative, leaders must ensure that progress is communicated up to maintain support for the activity, justifying the continued allocation of resources.
- The team — while some would say this doesn’t need to be mentioned, it is frequently the most neglected aspect of communications. The leader must continuously communicate the vision to the team so that everyone is heading in the same direction. Just because they’ve heard it once doesn’t mean they will fully understand it or internalize it as their own vision. Tasking must be communicated clearly to each team member, and expectations clearly stated to avoid misunderstandings. Conflicts and confusion must be resolved quickly, usually through effective communication with one or more team members.
- Peers — sometimes leaders are in a position to direct all aspects of a project or activity; but more often, they must rely on cooperation with organizations that are not within their scope of control. While it is sometimes necessary to go up your side of the chain and down theirs, this rarely results in a good relationship and causes more problems down the line. Effective communication of requirements and expectations, sometimes including selling the other group on the value of your project, will result in strong, cooperative relationships that make everyone’s job easier.
- The Public — if the goal of the project is to create a product or service that is to be sold, or if it is a campaign to change the public’s behavior in some way, leaders must have the ability to communicate outside their organization. Sometimes it is through advertisements or written press releases, but it could also mean making appearances on television or radio — which is where skill in public speaking would come in handy. If the idea is not clearly communicated, the campaign or the product launch will not prove successful.
There are entire courses and seminars devoted to this topic, one indication of its criticality … and also the need for improvement across the board. While it is beyond the scope of this post to completely explain how to communicate effectively, there are some things you can work on to improve your communications:
- Know your audience — If you can understand your audience sufficiently to be able to talk their language, it will be easier for them to understand. You talk differently to senior executives than to assembly line workers, engineers versus marketing analysts, etc.
- Keep it simple — don’t use 10 words to say something when 1 or 2 will do.
- Organize your thoughts — paint a clear picture and help them follow your thought process — if they can’t see how you got from introduction to conclusion, they won’t understand your vision
The bottom line is that leaders spend much of their time communicating, and the better they are, the more effective they will be.