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Leading Effectively: 6 Essential Leadership Communication Skills

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 — September 5th, 2023

Leading Effectively: 6 Essential Leadership Communication Skills

Understanding the Role of Communication in Leadership

Emotional intelligence. The ability to bring out the best performance. Self-awareness. Financial literacy. Resilience. Communication.

These are the six qualities that make a good leader, according to Harvard Business School. Checking out similarly titled articles published by the likes of Gartner, Gallup, McKinsey, Deloitte, and Accenture -and countless others- one quality appears on every list.

Communication.

It’sa non-negotiable. A pre-requisite. A quality that becomes more and more important with each passing year, with each generation. In. every. single. field.

In the intricate dance of guiding a team, department, or organization toward success, the ability to communicate skillfully is not just an asset—it's an imperative.

Communication isn't merely the conveyance of information; it's the cornerstone upon which trust is built, visions are shared, and strategies are executed. Leadership, in its essence, is about rallying a group of individuals toward a common goal. This cannot be achieved in isolation; it necessitates a robust network of connections established through clear, authentic, and empathetic communication. A leader's words and actions set the tone for the entire team, influencing morale, shaping culture, and defining the organization's identity.

So, let’s discuss the intricate interplay between communication and leadership and explore how effective communication strategies can empower leaders to inspire and unite employees. From mastering the art of active listening to adapting communication styles to diverse audiences, let’s uncover the multifaceted layers of communication that fuel exceptional leadership.

Key Leader Communication Skills

A whopping 91% of 1,000 employees in a recent Interact/Harris Poll said the one skill their leaders lack is communicating well. But let’s drill down - what are the specific types of communication skills that every leader must try to master?

Active Listening

Great leaders listen attentively to their team members, acknowledging their ideas, concerns, and feedback. This cultivates trust and demonstrates that their perspectives are valued.

Clear and Concise Communication

Leaders should convey their thoughts and ideas in a clear, straightforward manner. Avoid jargon, too many acronyms, and complex language to ensure everyone comprehends the message.

Empathy

Understanding and acknowledging the emotions and experiences of team members creates a supportive and empathetic workplace. Empathetic leaders connect on a personal level and build strong relationships.

Openness to Feedback

Encouraging constructive criticism and being open to feedbackshowcases a leader's willingness to grow and improve, setting an example for the team to follow.

Adaptability

Influential leaders tailor their communication style to suit different situations and individuals. They adjust their approach based on the needs and preferences of their team members. In other words, they have honed their ability to “read the room”. 

Conflict Resolution

Leaders adept at communication can navigate conflicts and disagreements by addressing issues openly, finding common ground, and facilitating productive discussions.

Clarity in Goal Setting

Clearly articulating goals, expectations, and objectives provides a sense of direction and purpose for the team. It fosters alignment and commitment toward shared outcomes.

Storytelling

Sharing stories and anecdotes helps convey complex ideas and values in a relatable and memorable way, making the message more impactful and memorable.

Positive Reinforcement

Recognizing and praising achievements publicly motivates and boosts team morale, driving a culture of excellence.

Transparency

Openly sharing information about the organization's vision, challenges, and decisions fosters trust and demonstrates authenticity.

Nonverbal Communication

Gestures, facial expressions, and body language play a significant role in communication. Leaders who are mindful of their nonverbal cues can convey confidence and approachability.

Conflict Management

Skillfully addressing disagreements and finding common ground through effective communication helps maintain a harmonious and productive work environment.

Mastering these key leader communication skills is an ongoing process that enhances leaders’ ability to influence, inspire, and lead their teams effectively, ultimately contributing to the organization’s overall success.

Communication Channels for Leaders

Effective leadership hinges on skillful communication, but also, employing a diverse array of channels to connect with teams and convey messages coherently.

Town halls, a traditional yet impactful approach, allow leaders to address large audiences directly, fostering transparency and unity. These gatherings facilitate open dialogues, aligning visions and cultivating a shared sense of purpose.

Email - yes, still king! - enables leaders to disseminate information efficiently while accommodating detailed messages. Encourage feedback and questions from recipients. Provide contact information or a way for employees to reach out with their inquiries, opinions, or suggestions. Establish a regular cadence - this consistency helps employees anticipate updates and encourages them to engage with the content.

In the digital age, employee apps have gained prominence, providing a hub for real-time updates, collaboration, and engagement. Their interactive nature supports two-way communication, nurturing a sense of community.

Internal communications platforms, such as the Poppulo Harmony Platform, encompass a mix of written, visual, and interactive elements. These platforms facilitate targeted messaging, enabling leaders to tailor information to specific teams or individuals. Don't be afraid to mix up your approach—consider sharing a video message from the CEO instead of a traditional written update.

Overcoming Communication Challenges

Navigating communication challenges within an organization demands a strategic and adaptive approach. These challenges, ranging from information overload to diverse communication preferences, can impede clarity and hinder collaboration. Overcoming such hurdles requires a multifaceted strategy that leverages an omnichannel approach.

A fundamental obstacle is the deluge of information bombarding employees daily. To overcome this, leaders should prioritize information relevance and clarity, tailoring messages to the needs of specific teams or individuals. By streamlining information flow, leaders ensure that crucial messages aren't lost in the noise.

Diverse communication preferences within a team can hinder effective interactions. An omnichannel approach acknowledges this diversity, accommodating various communication styles. Some team members might prefer face-to-face interactions, while others find digital platforms more convenient. Recognizing these differences and providing options enhances engagement and understanding.

Misalignment between leadership and frontline employees can hinder goal achievement. An omnichannel approach involves leaders engaging with teams through various channels, such as town halls, emails, employee apps, etc. This reinforces the message's importance and clarifies expectations, mitigating the risk of misunderstandings.

Technology hiccups, from software glitches to network issues, can disrupt communication. Having backup plans and alternative communication methods ensures that essential information reaches its destination despite technical challenges.

Furthermore, an omnichannel approach integrates various communication channels seamlessly. This means messages shared during town halls are reinforced through emails, discussed on employee apps, and even displayed on digital signage. Such integration enhances message retention and ensures that critical information is accessible to everyone.

Remember - It’s important to meet your audience on the channel that suits them best. Once you're there - prioritize transparency and honesty.

Developing and Improving Leadership Communication Skills

Communication courses and programs tailored for leaders offer essential skills to navigate complex organizational landscapes. These specialized offerings cover diverse areas such as effective public speaking, conflict resolution, active listening, and strategic messaging. Leaders benefit from practical insights, honing their ability to engage teams, convey visions, and foster collaboration. These courses provide a valuable toolbox of communication techniques, empowering leaders to inspire, influence, and steer their organizations toward success.

Leadership Communication Coaching

Leadership communication coaching is a personalized guidance process that equips leaders with refined communication skills. Tailored to individual strengths and areas for growth, coaching sessions help leaders enhance their public speaking, interpersonal, and strategic communication abilities. By receiving constructive feedback and practicing targeted techniques, leaders can confidently navigate challenging conversations. Leadership communication coaching empowers leaders to effectively convey their vision, while building strong relationships.

Team Building Activities

Team building activities serve as dynamic communication tools for leaders. These interactive experiences facilitate open dialogue, break down barriers, and foster a collaborative spirit among team members. By engaging in shared challenges and tasks, leaders encourage effective communication, active listening, and problem-solving skills within the team. These activities also create a relaxed environment for informal interactions, enabling leaders to connect with their team on a personal level. “Yes, your CEO is a real person, too!”

Ultimately, team-building activities strengthen bonds, enhance camaraderie, and establish a foundation of trust - all essential elements for successful communication.

Case Studies: Successful Leadership Communication Examples

Stewart Milne Group, a well-known UK housebuilder and timber systems provider, recognized the important role of effective leadership comms in informing and uniting its diverse workforce spanning offices, factories, and housing developments. The imperative grew particularly significant during the pandemic-induced uncertainties. Despite having access to a SharePoint Intranet site, employees struggled to connect, making information-sharing across training, HR, and leadership matters difficult. This issue was particularly pronounced among non-desk-based employees with limited company email access. The ensuing sense of detachment underscored the necessity for a cohesive communication strategy to instill clarity and inclusion.

The solution took shape in a phased approach, introducing the Poppulo Email platform followed by the Poppulo Mobile app. The aim was to reach all employees through their preferred channels, facilitating rapid and consistent information dissemination. Given that half the workforce operated beyond traditional desks, adopting a versatile communication platform like Poppulo was of the utmost importance.

Implementing the Poppulo Mobile app marked a pivotal step toward engaging employees on factory floors and remote sites. The app transformed into an information hub, effectively addressing the challenges faced by a geographically dispersed workforce. Its concise, visually appealing content—with emojis and videos—elevated engagement and connectivity. Key content sections encompassed learning and development, complementing benefits programs.

A crucial facet of this endeavor was the methodical approach led by a select group of directors, senior managers, and organizational representatives. Their insights paved the way for resonant content. Notably, video content featuring the company's leadership discussing positive aspects amid the pandemic drew considerable engagement.

This integrated approach proved particularly efficacious during internal restructuring. Real-time employee feedback was garnered through surveys, enabling targeted communications to assuage concerns. The platform facilitated direct interaction with senior leadership, allaying uncertainties and ensuring clarity on key messages.

Results were evident in both cost savings—by eliminating SMS outreach—and enhanced engagement. The Poppulo Mobile app captured the attention of one-third of employees, and its popularity continues to grow. Videos emerged as particularly engaging content, holding employees' attention for longer durations.

“This was not something we had done before. We were able to get real-time thoughts and feelings, connect employees with Senior Leadership, share the 5-year growth plan and how it impacted employee’s learning and development plans and more. We eliminated any guesswork and put the effort into the content that the employees needed to address their fears,” — Kirsty Morrison, internal communications manager, Stewart Milne

Stewart Milne's journey demonstrates the significance of tailored communication across a diverse workforce and the power of omnichannel engagement. Data-driven insights honed content efficacy, promoting the app's launch and building a sense of belonging. The dynamic interplay of agility, adaptability, and cohesive leadership communication proved instrumental in times of change, solidifying the employees' connection to the organization.

Leadership Communications: Conclusion

In the intricate tapestry of leadership, effective communication is the thread that weaves vision, strategy, and action together. As comms leaders ourselves, we must recognize that communication extends far beyond mere words; it's an art that demands empathy, clarity, and adaptability.

Amidst an endless list of quotes on communication and leadership, consider this gem;

“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know." – Jim Rohn

In other words, while having accurate knowledge is essential, effective communication is not solely about relaying data; it's about connecting with your audience on an emotional level, making your message resonate, and inspiring action or understanding. The way we convey our knowledge can determinewhether or not our communication truly leaves an impact.

Leadership communication is not an ancillary skill but the foundation of effective leadership. It bridges intentions to actions, aspirations to outcomes, and individuals to collective success. So, as comms professionals, let’s embrace the potential of communication to uplift, motivate, and create a shared vision.

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