Leadership may come with some privileges. It definitely comes with responsibilities. However, leadership does not automatically endow us with all the skills needed to become a great leader. We have all experienced inspiring leaders. Ones who motivate us and want us to do and to be better and help us to achieve our potential. And unfortunately, many of us have experienced the opposite: leaders who criticize, complain, and seem only able to find fault.
As a leader the words you speak have great power. They can lift and inspire, or they can crush and diminish. Learning to speak well and thoughtfully, and honing your communication skills can help you become a better leader.
Saying the right thing at the right time isn’t always easy. Wouldn’t we love some kind of magic wand that gives us the perfect words for each person and each situation? As a long-time member of the foot-in-mouth club, I know I would like that. However, since such a thing doesn’t exist (yet) we must work on our communication skills every day.
When you are a leader, your communication skills become even more important. Your words, and your ability to communicate, are one of the keys to becoming a great leader. And even though there isn’t a single formula for communication success, there are, some guidelines that could help you become an even better leader and a better communicator. Here are five communication skills to focus on that can help you become a better leader.
Listen to Understand
Being a leader doesn’t mean that you do all the talking and control every conversation. Being a leader also means being a good listener.
When in a meeting, don’t try to dominate it – let your team members speak and really listen to what they have to say. When, as Stephen Covey said, you listen to understand and not just listen to reply, you learn so much more. The same is true for individual communication. When meeting with an employee, allow them to speak freely and listen carefully to what they have to say. You might be amazed by how much you can learn when your employees know they can speak to you without fear of judgment.
Your employees have much to contribute to your business. Their ideas may help you grow more quickly, avoid pitfalls, and build better relationships. Since they are on the front lines, and more often have a hands-on position in your company, they see things that you may not. Being willing to learn from your employees is one of the best ways you can become a better leader.
Maintaining an open door – and an open mind – policy is a good idea. Your team will be motivated and they’ll respect you more as a leader when they know you are willing to listen. Listening well is a sign of respect.
Offer Critique before Criticizing
Too often business leaders seek to motivate employees to improve through criticism when a critique might work more effectively.
When an employee is doing something wrong, as leaders we need to correct them and help them to learn to do it right. Unfortunately, we tend to be much better at letting employees know what they’re doing wrong than we are at telling them what they’re doing right.
To criticize someone is to express disapproval based on perceived faults or mistakes. When we offer critique, however, it is more of an assessment and analysis that includes positive feedback in addition to negative.
When you add the art of critique to your leadership communication skills, you can end the dread of employee correction. Instead of having your team frustrated or angry that all you notice are their failures, you are helping them learn and improve.
Avoid using negative language or diminishing positive feedback or praise by following it up with terms like “but” or “however.”
If you need to make corrections, make them. It’s better to be straightforward and not sugarcoat things, but focus on correcting the problem and not criticizing the person. Use specific language and examples so your employee knows what he or she has done wrong and what he needs to do to improve.
Communicate in clear language
Effective communication isn’t about showing off your ability to use complicated terms or industry jargon. Instead, it means ensuring your employees, associates, and clients understand what you’re telling them. Avoid jargon or overly complicated words. Speak with them as you would a prospect who is not yet familiar with your work. This is especially true for new employees who may not be familiar with “the way things are” in your organization. When you focus on ensuring your listener’s understanding you’ll be able to avoid misunderstandings.
The same goes for email and other written correspondence. Business emails are often packed with jargon and buzz words. But it’s important to realize that jargon and buzz words don’t mean you are an effective communicator. Sometimes it means the opposite. This brings to mind the phrase, “Baffle them with BS.” Learning to become a better leader means learning to communicate clearly, in language your audience can understand.
Simplicity and clarity lead to effective and good communication. When I was in college my journalism professors often reminded us that we should “never use a two-dollar word when a 25-cent word will do.” If you have a hard time with this, or want some help in writing clearly, a business writing tool like Grammarly can help you. So can working with a writing coach or taking a business writing course.
Some believe that argument is an essential component of leadership. That is not necessarily the case. Healthy, calm, respectful debate is a good thing, and is often necessary in negotiations, and in planning. Focus on debate, though, and not devolving into arguments. Arguments rarely have “winners” but often result in losing. Losing control, losing focus, and perhaps even losing business. And being an argumentative leader can lead to a loss of reputation. You don’t want to be perceived as someone who argues with and belittles his team – this deteriorates trust and demotivates employees.
When you are in a situation that seems to be devolving into an argument, take it as a sign to take a step back, take a break, and let everyone calm down. Give yourself, and everyone else time to rethink, reframe, and be ready to work together toward a positive solution.
Lead by example
Showing is always better than telling. If you want your team to work to certain standards, you must first demonstrate those standards yourself. If you really want to become a better leader, you need to lead by example.
If you want them to listen to you, and to view you as an effective leader they want to follow, teach them to become leaders themselves. As you demonstrate and teach the principles of effective leadership and effective communication, you are not only teaching them to become better leaders, but you are also reinforcing your leadership skills at the same time.
This includes everything from leading big meetings and events to cleaning up after yourself in the office break room. When you live what you preach, you gain integrity and respect. Show your employees that you really are part of the team.
Effective communication isn’t just about the words you say and the words you write, but it is also about the things that you do. When your words and your actions are in alignment, you are truly on your way to becoming a better leader.
The Next Steps are Up to You
Leadership is not just about position or privilege. Leadership can be a heavy responsibility. When you are a great leader, many people are looking to you for guidance and direction. Learning to communicate those things is a skill that takes practice.
Great leaders are not born. They are made through study, practice, work and learning to communicate. You have the ability to become a better leader. Hopefully, studying these five skills will help you on your journey. If you would like some additional help developing your leadership and communication skills, message me and we can work together to help you learn how to become a better leader and achieve your leadership potential.