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What comes to mind when you think of good leadership? Great decision-making skills? Speeches that captivate an audience? Or perhaps a go-getter and risk-taker attitude? Whatever it is, it goes without saying that solid communication skills are at the heart of great leadership.
Sure, being knowledgeable, hard-working, self-assured and curious helps, but being able to communicate effectively, wherever you are, makes the difference between a good and great leader.
Whether you’re an executive, a manager or are simply looking to develop your leadership skills, there’s never been a better time to fine-tune your communication skills. In this article, we’ll explore why communication matters in leadership and how to level up your communication skills.
Why is communication important in leadership?
According to a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit on communication barriers in the workplace, it’s clear that communication has a big impact on work.
Out of the 403 corporate staff surveyed (including executives, managers and junior employees):
- 44% said communication barriers led to a failure to complete projects on time or at all.
- 33% said poor communication causes low team morale.
- 25% attributed a lack of communication to missed performance goals.
- 18% said miscommunication led to the loss of a sale, a third of which is estimated to be over $100,000 (£82,778).
Likewise, in a report by Forbes Advisor, over 40% of employees said that poor communication affected their productivity, job satisfaction and stress levels.
Communication matters and as a leader who communicates with team members, managers, stakeholders and customers, here are just a few more reasons why it should matter to you too.
- Great teams have great communication. The best ideas come from teams that work together, listen to each other and feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions.
- Clear communication means more creativity. Allowing for different ideas, strategies and new ways of thinking promotes a creative and innovative work environment.
- Leaders who communicate effectively are seen as more trustworthy. 43% of on-site employees (and 54% of remote workers) reported that poor communication impacted their trust in leadership. Leaders who can communicate effectively are more likely to be trusted.
- Effective communication is the foundation to great leadership. Being able to progress individually, and with a team, and achieve your goals all starts with being able to communicate.
Leadership communication tips
So how do you communicate like a leader? We’re glad you asked. Here are ten tips you can use to start improving your leadership communication skills.
1. Don’t underestimate the importance of clarity
As any professional knows, clarity is king. Being able to distil difficult ideas into easy-to-understand concepts is paramount to a lot of roles, and it’s no different in a leadership position.
Conveying a clear message that can be understood by your target audience is crucial, whether that’s face-to-face, over the phone, by email or on a video call.
Whatever your subject matter is, focus on using clear, jargon-free language – it’ll make a world of difference.
“Listen to understand, not reply.” Truer words were never spoken.
While it sounds obvious, active listening is often one of the more ignored soft skills. After all, it’s not as flashy as public speaking, and sometimes feels too simple to make an impact. Except it does.
Practise paying attention to what is being said in your conversations – focusing on what they’re saying and not what you need to say next, limiting distractions and asking questions that help clarify their point of view.
3. Pay attention to your body language
Communication isn’t just about what you say, it’s about how you say it.
Consider this scenario. Two different people relay the same message – one, seems confident and open, while the other seems a little closed off. Why? It’s all in the delivery.
Body language matters. Direct eye contact, leaning in, moving your hands or keeping them by your side all make a difference, even if what you’re saying hasn’t changed.
4. Consider the platform
With the rise of hybrid and remote work, communication in the workplace has never been more diverse. Knowing how to communicate clearly on all platforms is crucial.
Can that zoom meeting be an email? Is your in-person presentation engaging and informative? Does your audience have all the information they need? These are just a few of questions to start thinking about.
5. Think about your audience
Likewise, take some time to think about who you’re speaking to.
Whether it’s a group, an individual, clients, colleagues or a potential new recruit, how you communicate will most likely depend on who you’re speaking to.
6. Be empathetic
Surprisingly, around 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees. While that figure is shocking, it’s also clear that employee-manager communication needs an overhaul.
Great communication starts with empathy. Understanding that certain conversations are harder to have doesn’t mean they need to be impossible, complicated or cold. The same can be said for routine check-ins.
Like any good organisation, communication that puts people (instead of policies) first will always come out on top.
7. Stick to your word
It’s self-explanatory but doing what you say you will do really helps to build trust in your leadership. Following through on actions should already be best practice, but if not, there’s no time like the present to start doing that.
And when plans change, as they often do, make an effort to update the relevant people. Keeping the lines of communication open only makes for a stronger team and a trusting work environment.
8. Get comfortable asking questions
Socrates had the right idea. Great leaders don’t know it all (and no one expects you to either). Asking questions and being open to learning from others can help enrich your experiences, professional or otherwise. So, if you don’t know, just ask.
9. Embrace different communication styles
It’s likely you already know and use at least one of these four communication styles – analytical, intuitive, personal, and functional.
For the unfamiliar, these communication styles look at different ways we communicate.
- The analytical communicator focuses on the details, facts, figures and logic.
- The intuitive communicator looks at the bigger picture and will often use quite visual language.
- The personal communicator centres their emotions and will most likely use emotive language.
- The functional communicator focuses on the “how”, meaning the processes and plans of action.
Being aware of these four communication styles means you can pair complementary communicators together but also allows you to embrace switching between different communication styles when needed.
10. Embrace feedback
As a leader, one thing is certain, you won’t always get it right. That’s why feedback is essential.
There’s a misconception that the further you get on your professional journey, the fewer opportunities for feedback you’ll have, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Seek out opportunities for feedback, whether that’s via a survey, a dedicated 1:1 or during a casual conversation.
Communicate like a pro with FutureLearn
Wherever you are in your career, it’s never too early or late to start working on your communication skills. With expert-led short courses, microcredentials and degrees, FutureLearn has the right resources to transform your leadership communication skills.
Online leadership and communication courses at FutureLearn
- Influencing and Communication Skills for Managers by The University of Law
- Effective Communication Skills for Professionals by University of Southern Queensland
- Inclusive Management and Leadership Skills by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
- Leadership Skills and Change Management in Uncertain Times by Ducere Global Business School
- Communication and Interpersonal Skills at Work by University of Leeds
- Values-Driven Leadership by Nottingham Business School