Being a great leader is about having a transformative vision and the ability to inspire and to motivate people behind your cause. In order to achieve the two, a leader must be able to communicate effectively with the followers.
If you think about the greatest leaders, such as Martin Luther King or Steve Jobs, you’ll remember the speeches they gave and the inspirational message they shouted from the rooftops. But what are the communication secrets of these great leaders?
In this guide, we’ll outline the eight communication secrets you need to take on board, including the importance of effective communication and the non-verbal side of communicating.
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WHY LEADER’S COMMUNICATION ABILITIES MATTER?
Before we start examining the practical communication secrets of great leaders, we should peer into the world of communication. Why does a good grasp of communication skills even matter? Communication is simply the foundation on which we built our activities and relationship. It’s crucial in all different sectors, from dealing with our private relationship to working effectively in business.
The benefits of good communication for organizations and teams come from its ability to boost performance and help improve the rate of achieving organizational objectives. The benefits come from communication’s ability to: help create good relationships, boost innovation, and result in work being more efficient.
Helps create good relationship
Effective communication, using the secrets mentioned in the coming sections, will help create relationship, which are built on mutual trust and understanding. Positive encounters create a connection, which empowers people in the team. When relationships are built on trust and the communication is open, the chances of a conflict diminish. People are able to communicate their problems before they turn into major issues.
Furthermore, by using the following communication methods, leaders are able to resolve arguments swiftly and without communication breaking down between the members of the team. Open and honest discussions will create an environment of friendship and by focusing on effective communication, leaders can ensure each member feels part of the team.
Once the environment for open communication has been established and people are able to share their ideas freely, the workplace will see a boost in innovation. Communication is a building block for creativity, as other opinions and perspectives can help improve and deepen ideas around a project.
With the help of effective communication, sharing ideas isn’t to be feared, as everyone is free to voice their opinions in a respectful manner. The more enhanced the communication and the more avenues the team has for speaking out, the more you’ll witness collaboration. When you can trust the people around you and you feel welcomed into the team, you won’t be afraid to provide or receive feedback.
Results in more effective work
Effective communication will also provide more clarity in the workplace, which leads to increases in overall efficiency. By increasing communication within an organization, you ensure people are aware of the tasks and objectives ahead. Communication provides clarity and creates the channels, which people can use to ensure they understand what needs to be done.
Great leaders are able to communicate their vision, but also the operational requirements, in detail. Due to strong feedback channels, issues can be solved beforehand to ensure operational effectiveness and improved productivity. Furthermore, with open communication, transparency increases as well.
Things are not hidden away and sensitive issues are explained as well as possible. Leaders are essentially able to be honest, if they can’t be open about something, which helps satisfy the followers’ thirst for information. Leaders will find it easier to explain the ‘why’, when the communication routes are open and built on trust.
KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Mark Zuckerberg presented his vision about Facebook to investors wearing a hoodie and jeans. The outfit is not exactly what experts would recommend you wear at an important business meeting. But it worked; why? It was authentic – it represented Zuckerberg’s personality and it didn’t get in the way of his communication since he was being his comfortable self. As a leader, you need to aim to this moment, to your ‘hoodie and jeans’, which is about finding yourself, knowing who you are, and being comfortable with the discovery.
Communication, whether it is your verbal or non-verbal presentation, is about authenticity. If you are trying to lie or say things you don’t believe in or which don’t represent you, you aren’t going to get the followers to listen. Before you start working on your speechwriting, the tone or the postures, learn to know yourself. Your personality, values and skills all influence the way you communicate. To better understand them, ask yourself:
- What type of communicator are you? Look at the image and pick one of the four communication styles that most resemble your approach. Perhaps you fit neatly into one of the boxes or maybe you are more of a combination of two different styles.
What do you value in communication? Perhaps you think honesty in communication is the most important value or you might prefer if people were focused on being nice. Write down the kind of values you want to add to your communication.
- What are your current strengths and weaknesses in terms of communication? Study your communication skills honestly. Why are you good at certain aspects and not so effective in others? By understanding your weaknesses, you can focus on elevating the skills and reinforce your strengths.
Answering the above questions will help you identify the kind of communication styles and approaches you are not only good at but also value in other people. It helps you focus your efforts to improve and further develop your communication as a leader. Identifying your current abilities and values, as well as your weaknesses as a communicator will enhance your chances of improving these areas quicker.
Furthermore, the understanding of your own communication style will ensure you are more confident and comfortable about communication. If you focus on your strengths and place your values at the heart of your communication style, you won’t feel pretentious and you can rely on your abilities more. A great leader always relies on his or her abilities, instead of trying to mimic others and to be something they are not.
UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
Aside from knowing yourself, a great leader will also learn to understand his or her audience. To know is to understand and to understand is to influence. Great leaders are good communicators because they can refine their style according to the audience. Simply put, they are aware of the people listening to them in terms of their needs and knowledge, but also know what kind of communication works best with the audience.
As an example, a speaker can’t use the same communication style when talking about cheese to a full audience of cheese producers as they would for a group of kids. Even if the idea is the same (to get people eating cheese), the audience is different in terms of knowledge of cheese and the ability to take in information (adults versus children). The example might be an exaggeration, but the idea still holds – understanding your audience helps convey the message in the right manner.
The three major benefits to being aware of your audience are:
- Presents a clearer message. If you are aware of who is listening to you in terms of their understanding of your message/topic, you cut the chase and go straight to the point. You don’t need to add in information the audience already knows or leave out things, which they don’t.
- Creates a meaningful connection. You’ll be able to create an authentic connection with the audience by understanding who they are. You can relate to their values, backgrounds and hopes, using the knowledge to guarantee you connect on a personal level. Learning about the audience will ensure you see the people as persons, with wants and needs, rather than a faceless crowd.
- Guarantees a stronger impact. The above will help you communicate effectively, making sure the message gets across and people reflect on what you said. By examining the group, you’ll be able to adjust your communication style to influence and inspire. Your audience might be a humorous bunch of people or you might have a bigger impact by sticking to hard data and facts.
Whether you are holding a speech to a large audience or having a chat with a single person, there are a few things you should do in advance. First, gather any information you have about the audience: Who are they? What do they already know about the things you want to talk about? What do you think are their primary concerns? What do you want to take away as a result of the discussion?
Furthermore, if you’ve communicated with them before try remembering what type of communicators they were and what connections can you draw from the last encounter to the present one. Even when you are talking to a large group, you need to find a personal connection – to talk like you would to an individual, even though you are facing multiple persons. Focus on the audience and not boosting your own ego. You should aim to communicate with the audience in a way that makes them inspired, motivated or thoughtful about the message.
BE SINCERE AND AUTHENTIC
Great leaders don’t always say the things we want to hear. The strength of their communication comes from authenticity and sincerity. Even when the followers might not want to hear what the leader has to say, a great leader will say what is needed, but do it with empathy. Sincere and authentic messages will resonate with the people, as they can see from the conviction and passion the leader cares.
If your communication is based on lying, you will quickly start eroding trust and good communication is always built on mutual trust. Liars do tend to be caught sooner or later; and as soon as you do, the trust and respect are gone from the relationship and community. Even if you don’t outright lie, but your communication style omits certain things, you will create an environment where people are not quite sure whether to believe you. Instead of hiding things away from the followers, great leaders will openly admit if they can’t share particular information because it’s too sensitive. If the messaging is sincere, you can create an environment that isn’t anxious and full of distrust.
With sincerity comes authenticity: the avoidance to fabricate your communication. As mentioned above in the previous sections, you shouldn’t try to create a façade with your communication and communicate in a manner, which isn’t truly you. With authenticity, you showcase your personality and your passion when you communicate.
You say things as they are without forgetting about decency and empathy. You, in effect, show more trust towards your followers because you understand that they are ‘strong enough’ to take in the message. With an authentic style, you tell the listener: “I know what I’m saying is not the news you want, but these are the facts behind it.” By opening your communication with authenticity, you create an immediate connection with your audience; you lay down your cards and you accept them to trust you as well.
Huffington Post presented a few important tips for communication with authenticity in the world of business:
- Know who you are and be comfortable in your skin.
- Move beyond the fear. Don’t get stuck with fear and focus only on your limitations. You don’t need to be perfect in anything in order to communicate.
- Don’t try to sound smart. You might feel like leadership is about sounding smarter than the others, but it isn’t. A successful leader doesn’t try to ‘sound smart’, but they adjust to the audience and they value other people’s knowledge. When they walk into a room, they don’t think they’ll be the smartest person in there.
- Show vulnerability. Vulnerability and soft emotions are the key to authentic communication. Don’t hide away emotions, but accept them as part of who you are. Allowing the followers to see your emotions can help them better understand your rationale.
FOCUS ON CLARITY AND AUTHORITY OF YOUR MESSAGE
Great communications are able to speak with clarity. Your message must be honed to perfection to ensure people aren’t left unsure about your message afterwards. It’s OK if they ask questions, but one of these should not be ‘What did you just say?”
Concise and simple communication style is more effective than complicated and confusing messaging, especially in the modern world where time is of the essence. If you take a long time to get to the point, you can rest assured some people would have already zoned out by the time you make your case. You need to stop the blabbering and focus on the core message.
You can guarantee a clear message and concise communication by focusing on two essential points:
- Using clear language – Pay attention to the words you use in your communication. You need to ensure each word has meaning and takes your message forwards; skip the fillers and ambiguous words. However, don’t just remove the examples out of your vocabulary, but pay attention to when and how you use them to figure whether your use is excessive and unnecessary.
- Know your message – You can’t speak with clarity if you are unaware of what you are trying to communicate. Therefore, one of the key aspects of communication comes from realizing the objectives you have. Think in terms of what’s the gist of your communication: are you looking to explain, ask for something, thank, apologize or inspire? By knowing your objective, you can start crafting the message and find the best ways to communicate it.
One important thing to remember about clarity is how you can’t start chopping away your message too much. Although you want to be concise, you can’t omit information that is vital for understanding the message. Clarity means you don’t expect the other person to read between the lines; it’s not about word count or a race against the clock.
Furthermore, clarity also relates to another important communication element: assertiveness. Firm communication is especially needed as a leader. If you don’t speak with authority, people will question your message and its validity, making it harder for you to achieve your objectives and to gain followers. Note how assertive communication is not the same as ‘bossing’ people around. You simply talk with conviction and confidence.
The three keys to speaking with authority are:
- Have confidence in your message. Again, you need to know what you want to communicate and have enough knowledge regarding the topic. Don’t be a person who feels compelled to talk for the sake of it; communicate when you have something to say.
- Be prepared to respond to criticism. You will gain opposition and questioning in most instances; be prepared for negative feedback. Always review your message from different angles and be willing to defend your opinions.
- Stick to your message. If you’ve done your homework, then you need to have the strength to stand by your message. Don’t let opposition or negative feedback put you down.
HAVE AN OPEN MIND
Following on the above point about confidence and conviction in your message, don’t mix these with stubbornness and unwillingness to new ideas. Communication shouldn’t be about sticking to your own views no matter what; you don’t want to approach a discussion with a closed mind. Even though you should trust your message, you shouldn’t ignore the feedback or new ideas. Rigid mind can be the biggest obstacle on your path to success. Leaders who are willing to learn and develop will achieve success faster than those who work with blinders on.
Whenever you communicate with another person, consider it as an opportunity to learn. Don’t approach communication with selfishness; don’t make it about you and your message; but what the other person can teach you. Stay open to ideas and suggestions, even if you don’t take them on board.
Indeed, it can be helpful to hear criticism of your ideas and find ways to counter them; this can teach you more about the validity of your message. When you hear an opposing argument, don’t respond defensively. Find out where the other person is coming from, weight the arguments and see if there’s common ground. Instead of being defensive, be inquisitive and open.
Each opportunity to communicate with another person is always an opportunity to learn. As a leader, you need to be willing to listen to others and take in the feedback, whether positive or negative. Other worldviews and opinions can be truly enriching and open up new avenues of thought for your own leadership vision and message.
Whether you are discussing a new design plan with your team or just exchanging views about the latest technological invention with other CEO friends, the conversations can spark an idea if you are willing to listen. Don’t surround yourself with people who think exactly as you do or share the same worldview, but seek out situations where you are faced with people from different backgrounds and with opposing philosophies.
Finally, having an open mind also means being able to admit to your mistakes and failures. A great leader doesn’t regard him- or herself as perfect. Communication is just another tool for these leaders to develop. Although you should have conviction in your ideas, you can’t keep defending a position, which is unattainable. If the facts show you are wrong, you need to be able to admit it.
REMEMBER TO LISTEN
The most meaningful discourse stems out of discussion, not a monologue. If you think the most effective communication is focused on learning how to talk, you are missing 50% of communication secrets. Communication should always be a two-way street: you listen and you talk. The great leaders of our time have not just been great speakers; they’ve also had the ability to listen the people around them. It comes back down to developing and improving your message.
By listening to other people, you can learn more about the world around you and ensure your vision as a leader matches the aspirations of your followers, as well as yourself. If you think about the previously mentioned communication secret of knowing your audience, you can’t expect to relate to them or empathize with them, if you aren’t willing to listen to what they are telling you.
Think about your listening style. Do you think about your response while listening to the other person? Do you use the time to think about your upcoming lunch? Listening is not about shutting up while the other person speaks. To make it worthwhile, you need to actively listen to the other person. You can ensure active listening by focusing on these five pointers:
- Pay attention. Focus on the person who is talking by looking them directly and refusing to start preparing for a rebuttal. If you notice your thoughts wandering, actively engage with the speaker again and pay attention to the words and the message.
- Let them know you are listening. Use your body language and non-verbal cues to show you are paying attention. You can find out more about these in the next section.
- Give feedback to the speaker. Once the person stops talking, provide feedback by reflecting what you just heard. You can do this by asking clarifying questions or paraphrasing what you just heard.
- Don’t judge. Although you want to provide feedback, ensure you don’t interrupt the person while they are speaking or react with intense emotion.
- Respond with respect. Before you react, take into account the person’s perspective and ensure you have enough information to understand his or her point of view. Be honest, but respectful. You don’t have to agree with them, but don’t put them down or disregard everything they’ve just said.
Active listening is not always as easy as it sounds. If you feel you’re drifting away during conversations or you often find yourself in intense arguments, examine your listening skills first. Start paying more attention to your listening because it can quickly improve your verbal communication as well.
Don’t just focus on the above pointers at work, but apply active listening to your personal and private relationships as well. Whenever you notice yourself zoning out of a conversation, draw your attention back to the speaker and prepare to ask questions. Knowing you need to respond in regards to what the person just said can enforce you to pay more attention rather than if you focused solely on your message.
LEARN ABOUT THE NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION CUES
The other essential non-verbal elements of communication are the different cues we send during conversations with our body language and behavior. The non-verbal communication cues are especially crucial for leaders to master since the way you behave during a conversation can ensure you show empathy. If the person talking doesn’t think you care about his or her message, resentment and distrust can start building, making it harder for you to build solid relationships with the followers.
If you read about great leaders like Nelson Mandela, you regularly find references to how people felt in their presence and how he made them feel valued and listened to.
The non-verbal communication cues you need to pay attention to include the following:
- Body language – Hand gestures, nodding, leg twitching, which might highlight whether you agree or disagree with the person.
- Posture – The way you stand, sit, and if your arms or legs are crossed, with the posture determining if you look engaged or interested.
- Eye contact – If you are looking at the person in the eyes throughout the conversation, you’ll come across more trustworthy and engaged.
- Facial expressions – Smiling, frowning and rolling your eyes highlight what you think about the person and the topic of conversation.
- Physiological changes – Sweating, twitching and blinking can suggest your nervousness, boredom or humiliation.
You should pay attention to the cues and the specific messages behind them in order to control them better in your own communication. You want to emphasize the positive non-verbal cues, such as eye contact, smiling and a confident posture. On the other hand, you want to try to avoid slouching or frowning during conversations.
In addition to paying attention to non-verbal cues in your own communication, you need to understand them in order to interpret the other person’s behavior. An example of the importance of this is highlighted in terms of knowing your audience. If you are giving a speech or having a conversation with a follower, you want to analyze the way your message is getting across by focusing on non-verbal cues.
If everyone in the audience is staring blankly at the walls and yawning, you need to change your communication style. Perhaps you can make a joke, shock them with a fact or simply change your tone to wake them up. Furthermore, if your follower is talking with you and he or she is sweating, shaking and avoiding eye contact, you want to try calming him or her down with your behavior. Lighten up the situation by talking non-work issues first or compliment them for their hard work to boost their confidence.
The ability to read non-verbal cues will ensure you approach people with empathy and respect; it helps you fine-tune the message to your audience and better engage in discussion with the other person. The purpose of communication is to understand and non-verbal communication can lead to deeper understanding of the person’s objectives, fears and hopes.
Communication is an essential part of the human experience, influencing our relationship in private and public spheres. The ability to create strong channels for dialogue is especially crucial for leaders. Without discourse, conveying your vision as a leader and inspiring followers to act will be difficult, if not impossible. The above communication secrets are tried and tested methods great leaders have used in order to enkindle the followers.
By focusing on each of the secret, you’ll learn more about yourself and the people around you. You can use the strategies to improve your message and forge meaningful connections with the people around you.