Communication – Conversation at the Core of Leadership

Most of us take our ability to communicate for granted. Leaders, in particular, tend to assume since they’re leaders they’re good at it. Not necessarily so… The ability to influence others via words and associated actions is the core skill at the center of all the other core skills. Communication either unites, divides or perhaps worst case, does nothing. Your accurate assessment of your own ability to communicate effectively can make you or break you (and those you lead as well). I’m going to briefly outline three concepts you may have heard in Communications 101, but you may not have fully realized the critical role each play in your success as a leader.

Essential Skills to be an Effective Communicator

Communication…seems like it should be so simple, when in reality it is quite complex. It is essential in everything we do; everything! Communicating successfully and effectively involves sharing ideas, feelings and observations in a way that is clear, while also taking the time to listen and respond to others. When it comes to leadership, it is a core function and characteristic needed for success.

Benefits of Effective Communication

As a leader, we don’t want to just say words, we want to communicate; to get someone to understand the what, the why and the how. With so much email, have you had the experience of being misunderstood; taken out of context? Now with multiple virtual meetings, there are even more skills needed to communicate and possible ways to be misunderstood. With virtual communication, how do we check for understanding? I find it pretty difficult to check facial expressions or get feedback on a virtual call.

Listen & Learn

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” – Doug Larson

There is nothing more important for leaders than communication.  Technical skills are great, understanding markets and customers is important, but without communication none of that really matters.  Leaders have to be able to communicate with people on any level, whether they’re customers, employees, vendors, members of the community, governmental agencies – the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately for a lot of leaders, “communication” is just another word for “talking”.  Leaders get asked a lot of questions and get asked for their input on a regular basis, and soon they’re talking constantly.  Whether it’s a conscious choice or just a habit, it just becomes the norm that whenever they’re in the room, they drive the conversation.

The problem, of course, is that no matter how much fun talking may be, communication is a two-way street.  You cannot claim to be doing your job as a leader without communication, and you don’t have communication if you don’t listen.

Do you really think you have a monopoly on good ideas or information?  Of course not.  But how do the ideas of others or the knowledge you need make it to you if you don’t listen?  And your listening as a leader can’t be limited to just a few people.  You can learn from anyone, and great ideas can come from anywhere, and if you’re talking all the time you’ll miss them.

The next time you’re in a meeting, or on a call, or just having a conversation, pay attention to how much talking you’re doing.  It isn’t that you can never speak; but the idea that you should dominate every conversation you’re ever in is ridiculous.  Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not that great.

Practice being a productive listener.  Make a point to ask questions and then actually focus on the answers.  If someone comes to you with an idea, don’t immediately start talking about how great or terrible it is.  Listen to what they have to say without trying to direct the conversation.

Listening is the most important piece of the most important part of your job.  Don’t ignore it, and don’t pretend it doesn’t matter.  Make the effort to become a great listener, and watch the change happen.