It’s no secret that good leaders are also good communicators. And the best leaders have learned that effective communication is as much about authenticity as the words they speak and write.
Indeed, communication and leadership are inextricably tied. How can you galvanize, inspire or guide others if you don’t communicate in a clear, credible, authentic way?
Here are 5 essential communication practices of effective leaders.
1. Mind the say-do gap. This is all about trust, which is the bedrock of effective leadership. Your behavior is your single greatest mode of communication, and it must be congruent with what you say. If your actions don’t align with your words, there’s trouble. And it can turn into big trouble if not corrected swiftly and genuinely. Since it’s often difficult to see the say-do gap in yourself, rely on a few trusted colleagues to tell it to you straight and flag discrepancies. Rule of thumb: it’s better to say nothing or delay your communication until you’re certain that your actions will ring true.
2. Make the complex simple. Your employees and customers are being bombarded 24/7 by information, making it hard for them to hear you. Simplicity has never been more powerful or necessary. Effective leaders distill complex thoughts and strategies into simple, memorable terms that colleagues and customers can grasp and act upon. If you’re having trouble distilling something to its essence, it may be that you don’t understand it. So get clear and look out for technical jargon and business speak, which add complexity. Say what you mean in as few words as possible.
3. Find your own voice. Use language that’s distinctly your own. Let your values come through in your communication. Often, executives will opt for the sanitized “corporate voice” instead of their own because they think the former is more eloquent; more appropriate. This is not to say that correct grammar and use of language aren’t important — strong leaders know how to string a sentence together. But don’t fixate on eloquence; concentrate on being distinct and real. People want real. People respect real. People follow real. Don’t disguise who you are. Be genuine, and people will respect you for it.
4. Be visible. Visibility is about letting your key stakeholders get a feel for who you are and what you care about. It’s easy to hide behind a computer and transmit messages to others without seeing or interacting with them. Although e-communication serves a valuable purpose, it is no substitute for face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication. In today’s environment, people are often burned out and need to feel a personal connection to you and the work that you believe in. Do a “calendar test” to make sure you’re allocating time regularly to be out on the floor, in the factory, in the call center, in the lab, in the store. Show your people that you’re engaged and care about them and their work.
5. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Stop, look and listen. Remember that effective communication is two-way. Good leaders know how to ask good questions, and then listen with both their eyes and ears. It’s easy to be so focused on getting your message out — or persuading others — that you don’t tune in to what you see and hear. Because you’re in a position of authority, the stakes are even higher because you won’t always get direct feedback. You need to read between the lines. Listen and hear what is coming back at you. Look for the nonverbal cues. Sometimes a person’s body language will tell you everything you need to know.