In fact, it’s essential for effective leadership. When you see it practiced well, it’s inspiring, engaging, and connects people to people and people to new ideas. It may appear to come so intuitively to some leaders that we are unaware of the intentional effort they devote to this strength.
It’s obvious when it’s not practiced well; we feel it keenly. Recently, I noticed a lack of communication with a colleague of mine. Initially, there was no communication about a particular issue. Then, there was some useful communication. Finally, after asking for some specific information and feedback, there was just silence. It felt like a communication roller coaster; it eroded our connection.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In work, as in life, communication that is clear, direct, and transparent builds trust, respect, and a collaborative team climate. It impacts our relationships, our productivity, and our effectiveness as leaders.
The research in Critical Leadership Skills, Key Traits That Can Make or Break Today’s Leaders, shows “the ability to communicate appropriately is an essential component for effective leadership.” One study shows that “43% of respondents identified communication skills as the most critical skill set, while 41% identified the inappropriate use of communication as the number one mistake leaders make.”
Appropriate communication in this research relates to:
- Communicating the right amount of information (not over nor under communicating),
- Communicating clearly with regards to company vision, direction, goals, roles, and individual expectations,
- Seeking clarity through active listening,
- Listening to feedback and alternative viewpoints, and
- Providing feedback (praise and redirection).
When we under-communicate, others will fill in the blanks with their own story, and much of the time, it isn’t a positive one.
Providing clarity and inspiration with regards to company vision, mission, or direction, can light a fire in our associates and connect them to something they value which, in turn, influences their commitment.
Listening well is another key component to effective communication, which involves taking in information with a curious, learner mindset. Seeking to understand feedback and alternative viewpoints demonstrates respect, openness, and the potential for deeper engagement.
In addition, providing both affirming and developmental feedback is critical for ensuring others’ success. In fact, recognizing employees’ achievements is one of the important issues according to Lou Soloman in her HBR article, The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders. The top three issues cited are, “not recognizing employee achievements, not giving clear directions, and not having time to meet with employees.” Solomon further states, “Effective leaders know that healthy communication requires the energy of connection – with inclusion, recognition, clear directions, meaningful interaction, and feedback as the nerve center of the company.”
One leader I have observed throughout the last decade is masterful at this. He takes time to recognize achievements, sets clear expectations for his team (and communicates them), and calendars regular time with each team member (not just direct reports) to connect with them about their leadership, their goals and their opportunities.
“No matter how powerful your message may be or how competent you are, if you can’t clearly communicate to your team, customers, and audience, you will never reach your maximum level of leadership success.”
Major General (Retired) Steven Hashem
How are your present communication skills influencing your teams success? What are your opportunities?