5 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders

5 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders

What makes a great leader?

When pondering this question our minds might conjure up images of someone standing behind a podium, addressing thousands of people, or we might think of historic battle speeches. In both of these examples, the communication is decidedly one-way.

In today's interconnected world, great leadership entails so much more. Inauthenticity is easily exposed, and integrity is highly valued. The power of one's position is no longer enough to grant respect, but rather effective leaders lead through influence. To gain influence, you need to connect with people and bring them to your side.

The following tips are general and can be applied to every situation, from persuasion to conflict resolution.  

1. Model a tone of respect
Words only account for a fraction of all communication. The energy you bring to any dialogue will strongly determine how it is received and consequently how the conversation will proceed. Emulate the tone and attitude you want from your team and the chances are your team will follow suit.

  • Make sure you are calm and relaxed, particularly if you're looking to resolve conflict.
  • Check your defensiveness at the door.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Allow people to respond uninterrupted.

For a great example of how to model a respectful tone, check out how Fred Rogers testified before the senate committee in 1969 to appeal for more funding for national public television. An initially hostile Senator Pastore quickly softens when faced with the calm, respectful tone of everyone's favorite neighbor.

2. Put your audience first
It's often cited as one of the most important facets of good communication, yet all-too-often it isn't actually implemented: Prioritize the needs and motivations of your audience. Why is what you have to say it important to them? Why do they need to hear it? And how can you adjust your communication so that they'll be able to hear it?

Put Your Audience First

3. Practice active listening
We all know how it is when you listen to someone but the words don't actually sink in. Maybe it's because you're tired, or you have 100 other pressing things on your mind distracting you. Maybe it's because you're already formulating your answer while they are speaking. It's easily done and yet not listening to someone is one of the most disrespectful things a leader can do.

Active listening is not only about absorbing what is being said, but about demonstrating that the speaker has been heard and understood. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Take your time. Wait for the speaker to finish what they are saying before trying to formulate a response.
  • Paraphrase what they have said to show you have understood and to allow them to correct you if there are crossed wires e.g. “So you're saying you're feeling stressed by your current workload”
  • Show your concern e.g. “I'm eager to help, you deserve to feel supported by your team”
  • Empathize and show vulnerability “I've also had times when I felt my contribution wasn't fully acknowledged. For me, it was frustrating to not feel valued.”
  • Ask open-ended questions to get more information. “What changes would you like to see to help you achieve your goal?”

Active listening takes practice. It can feel awkward at first, but it's one of the most important things you can do to earn the trust and respect of your team.

Active Listening

4. Give your reasons before delivering your decision
This fantastic piece of advice from founder coach Dave Bailey is an example of how making a subtle change with your team at the forefront of your mind can completely alter the way your communication is received.

There are two ways to communicate a decision:
Option 1: You deliver your decision first and then give your reasoning
Option 2: You outline the reasons which led you to your decision.

In the first instance, your team will have already started making judgments about your decision before you have explained yourself, then when you start to give your reasoning it can sound like you're making excuses.

Option 2 allows your team to understand the logical progression that led you to your decision and they're more likely to perceive it positively.

5. Be clear and concise
Once you reach a decision and have a clear vision, communicate it to your team clearly and with authority. Give an actionable plan to make sure that everyone is clear about their role going forward.

Being ambiguous or indirect gives the impression that you might later try to cover your tracks – it sets off that inauthenticity alarm. Speaking with clarity and authority shows your team that you're confident enough to be accountable for your decisions.

Great communicators make great leaders. Following these tips will help boost your influence and allow you to lead with integrity and vision.

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