Effective communication in leaders: Why you cannot lead without it

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Why effective communication in leaders is essential

It’s crucial that leaders are able to articulate where they/their organisation are going if they want people to follow them. So much of my work involves helping leaders articulate their vision and improve their relationships at work and communication is fundamental to success.

We can get stuck in meeting after meeting, forgetting the importance of communicating with those around us and making time for those we lead. We know that people need to be able to share their opinions, concerns and ideas in open discussions and in 1:1 meetings, and to be able to do that, a good relationship is needed.

People need to feel safe at work and communication plays a huge role in that. It takes away any element of surprise or fear that we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Clear communication is important for creating a sense of psychological safety at work. We know from the work of Amy Edmondson that psychological safety exists when people feel their workplace is an environment where they can speak up, offer ideas and ask questions without fear of being punished or embarrassed.

We know that it is essential for communicating, collaborating, experimenting, and ensuring the well-being of others and importantly for leaders, frequency has a role to play. How often you communicate has a direct link to how safe people feel.

In a recent LinkedIn Live and podcast interview I was discussing the different things elements that contribute to leadership success and in this blog post, I’ll share them with you.

Why effective communication in leaders is essential

Three steps to effective communication in leaders

When I walk about the importance of communication for leaders, there are three steps to ensuring it’s effective:

  • Alignment – why are we doing what we’re doing? Everyone has to be aligned on the reasons and the vision before you try to make changes
  • Listen – Ask questions and encourage participation. Communication is not just about written materials or what is said in presentations. Leaders must actively listen, ask questions and be curious. Ask people for clarity – “this is what I’ve heard, this is what I think you’re saying, is that correct?’
  • Action – You must show people you are taking action as a result of their feedback. If you’re not willing to act, don’t do the other two. Communicate the fact you’ve listened and what you’re doing. Give people timelines and clarity.

Give things the time they deserve

Effective communication and trust-building takes time. Make sure you allocate adequate time and space to listen, and then to figure out what you want to do about it. The amount of time you give depends on the situation. If people are feeling very distrustful then you need to give more time.

People want their leader to be supportive of them – and showing this takes time, care and energy.

In a world where people use busy as an excuse a lot it’s about determining what your priorities are as a leader. You’re not busy, you’re just prioritising other things.

Everyone can learn how to communicate better

You are not communicating for yourself – you are communicating for your audience. Quite often, with best of intentions, we might want to do a newsletter about us/our hobbies etc. but we need to be aware that this could alienate people. We need to communicate what our audiences want to hear, not just what we want to share.

If you’re unsure how something will be received by your audience or your employees, make sure you take advice from communication experts.

Always think how you want people to think, feel and act as a result of your communication.

If you’re not sure how to communicate something, focus on the feel element. Think about that and the words will start to come. Ask for help. Nobody wants leaders to fail. Listen and get feedback.

Rebuilding trust

You need to look at behaviours that lead to trust – and this is about being transparent and open. Conversations have to be two way. If the people you are communicating with don’t trust you, they must want to trust you again. Talk about things in a way that makes them feel safe.

If a decision went wrong – be open about why you made the decision, “this is what I’m going to do to fix it, this is when and I’m going to keep you informed”.

Accept there is a power dynamic at play. People sometimes try and shy away from it and make it all a level playing field but that doesn’t work. You can’t ignore it. You have to respect that and understand that.

How to ensure communication has impact

When launching new strategies etc you need to look at communication as a whole. Not just written communication and presentations, but actions too.

For example, in a previous role I helped launch a new strategy at a conference for 500 store managers. We made sure we looked at communication as far more than just the words on the slides – e.g. all images were representative of where we wanted to go, those presenting weren’t wearing suits but more casual clothes.
Everything was about what we wanted to communicate. We created an activity for people to engage in rather than just talking at them. Every aspect of the event was considered in terms of its impact.

By looking at the whole experience of that event, we gave people the freedom to own that strategy and how it was going to play out for them locally. Communication and culture came together as a blend. Through our actions, everything was aligned, which then helped people interpret the words.

Tips for ensuring communications helps us achieve the desired outcomes in the workplace

  • Be clear about what that desired outcome is.
  • Noise is an irrelevance. When people talk about noise, what they’re saying is they’re getting a lot of comms that is not relevant to me
  • Find what works for you. If you’re not someone who feels comfortable on video, don’t be on video. Where you are uncomfortable, explore if it’s an area you want to  learn and develop, but don’t get distracted by nonsense and pressure to do things a certain way as it won’t be genuine
  • Find your strengths – the things that will help show off your personality and help people really connect with you.

If you want to explore more about your leadership style, how to improve your communication and your relationships with your team, just fill out our contact form and we can make time to chat.

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Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.