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Are communication skills essential for good and effective leadership? Seeking to improve leadership communication skills can profoundly and positively alter working relationships, develop greater efficiency, grow trust and elevate morale.

Communication is all around us. It’s happening now as you read this article, in our environment and even at a micro level. Take the incredible ant as an example. They are able to tell each other what to do without speaking. Indeed nature has all sorts of ingenious ways to exchange information, between each of the same species, and even between different species.

From human beings to dogs, monkeys to lions, even the interwoven underground fungal structures to woodland trees, there are multiple ways to give and receive messages, even subliminally. In any environment, body language, movement, handshake, hug, kiss, phone call, text, email, yawn, cry, smell, shriek, laugh, will affect a response. This could be the right or wrong notion, i.e.: build rapport, offend, motivate or lose interest, to list just a few.

Communication is therefore not just about making grand speeches. It’s far more than just words and how we say them; instead it is a balanced combination of skills which include listening, sharing information and empathy. Here are some tips on how to improve leadership communication skills:

1. Listen

It’s important to listen well, far more than you speak. Why? It is simply not possible to grow and empower others unless you pay attention to their needs. It also encourages a level of intimacy that can signal mutual respect, a sense of open-minded learning and puts everyone participating in the conversation at ease and at an equal level. It may sound a bit strange, but during a conversation it’s also important to hear what isn’t being said, to be present and mindful to tune into your intuition during an interaction.

2. Be mindful

By being present and in the moment, not only can you build upon self-awareness, you can also make space for listening, not just what’s being spoken, but also with all of your senses. It enables you to block any automatic assumptions and any pre-conceived judgements and tune in to another’s views, feelings and expressions. To the recipient, you are giving and not taking, evoking empathy and trust. Your presence is always felt and people know whether you are simply ‘just there’ or whether you’re truly hearing them.

3. Be self-aware

Effective leaders improve leadership communication skills from a place of resilient self-awareness. Leaders who pay attention to themselves can readily notice their emotions. Once acknowledged strategies can be engaged so as not to react at the present. By noticing what’s going on in your mind, body and heart, you can open your capacity to truly connect with others.

4. Build trust

Subconsciously, without trust, communication becomes a constant process of verification, which takes considerably more time and is not effective. To build trust requires involving others in decision making, being transparent and consistent in your actions and paying attention to all interpersonal connections within your environment.

5. Be inquisitive

Ask questions. Question yourself and others. Find out more. After all, who are we to think we know it all? Asking for opinion, advice or information fosters rapport and helps build a stronger network of support. By directing a conversation, perhaps with a specific objective in mind, a leader will more readily identify and leverage the talent that surrounds them.

6. Invest in emotional intelligence (E.I)

When looking for tips on how to improve leadership communication skills, emotional intelligence is one area that cannot be overlooked. Investment, in terms of time, on becoming better self-aware, more disciplined, empathetic and calm, is necessary to retain a sense of self, to keep your vision front-of-mind, to articulate the right body language and tone of voice, in order to be read correctly and understood well by colleagues, partners and peers. These competencies are not innate talents instead they are capabilities that have to be continually worked on and developed.

7. Be the role model others will aspire to

Whether intentionally, or not, leaders serve as role models for their followers. A leader’s behaviour will communicate the social boundaries and culture of an organisation. Employees learn these values by observing leaders in action. Therefore it’s important that a conscious decision is taken by a leader, in terms of what values they wish to be translated to others, and that they ‘walk the talk’.

8. Pay attention to nonverbal communication

By nonverbal, we mean facial expression, posture, hand signals, eye contact, even the way you walk, all of these are forms of communication that will play a significant in sustaining or undermining your messages. It is therefore vital as a leader to be aware of your own body language and whether it aligns with what is being said. If the body language mirrors that being spoken, it will make the message more trustworthy.

9. Speak with clarity and conviction

As a general rule, most people don’t listen very well; leaders, therefore, have a role to ensure they speak as clearly and as effectively as possible. Acronyms, tech-speak and long convoluted words and phrases won’t be understood very well and therefore the message will be lost. The goal of any spoken word should always be clarity.

10. Be thankful

This is a choice that can be made to significantly improve leadership communication skills. Being thankful shows a human side, evokes transparency and can be incredibly motivational, both to others around you and actually to yourself. It is also incredibly humbling and puts problems, issues and events into perspective. Being thankful also requires sincerity and a constant mindset in order to hone the ability to express thankfulness in a meaningful way.

When the word ‘leadership’ is used, quite often it is interpreted as someone who has vision, goals and a mission. However, leadership is not an out-of-a-book machine, instead, it is a living breathing organism that has to effectively communicate information, values, ideas and belief continuously. As a result, organisations should be viewed as simply a network of verbal and nonverbal conversations, to which a good leader conducts effectively. By orchestrating networks of conversations, a web of trust and shared commitment emerges.

At Hothouse we look at the nature of leadership in our creative leadership programme. In particular, how a leader can facilitate the emergence of conversation, whilst simultaneously adapt and respond to what grows from that, at every moment and for the good of all.


Photo: Shane Rounce