by Jennifer Tobkin


by Jennifer Tobkin


communication skills for leaders

Perhaps the goals you have set this year for yourself and the team you manage include increased efficiency. The best way to be efficient is to communicate. Maybe you want to reduce interpersonal conflict in your workplace. Likewise, communication is key. You might even resolve to mentor your employees to build their leadership skills. Again, you can only do this by enhancing their communication skills. In so many ways, the success of your team, or of your organization as a whole, rests on communication skills for leaders.

Communication Skills for Leaders Is Not About Being Bossy

Anyone can boss people around, but that is not the same thing as true leadership. Being a leader does not mean micromanaging your employees. It also does not mean being their cheering section. Pep rallies and Secret Santa gift exchanges are fun, but by themselves, they do not help people work together efficiently.

Your professors in business school may have always given you high marks for oral and written communication. Perhaps you were even a debate team superstar in high school. There is more to communication skills for leaders, though. To lead your team successfully, you must do more than speak and write eloquently and concisely. Effective communication is about listening at least as much as it is about speaking. It involves the wisdom to know which topics are best addressed publicly and which are more appropriate for individual conversations.

Developing Leadership Within Your Organization

True leaders are emotionally invested in the success of their team and its members. They never take credit for other people’s work, but they can feel proud of the work they themselves have done to guide their team to successful outcomes. Your own communication skills, no matter how excellent they may be, will only get you so far unless you invest in communication skills for leaders other than yourself.

Various training workshops and coaching services are available for leadership skills development. Do not spend your entire professional development budget on your own development, though. The best allocation of your resources is both individual leadership communication training for yourself and group training programs for your entire team. Invest in the enhancement of your whole team’s communication skills just like you do with other aspects of your team’s success.

Listening Is as Important as Speaking

In your organizational behavior class in business school, you might have learned about the difference between interpersonal communication and presentational communication. Most likely, your subsequent education in communication skills for leaders focused on presentational communication. You might be able to give a showstopping presentation on virtually any subject, and yet the team you manage remains plagued by conflict. How can someone be both so successful and so unsuccessful at communication?

Interpersonal communication is a two-way street. It requires you to listen at least as much as you speak. Listening is about much more than paying attention to employees’ responses during meetings. Meetings are not an ideal setting for workplace communication. Some people speak at meetings just to hear their own voices, while most do not speak at all.

Instead, make time to talk to employees informally, and one-on-one. When you need employees’ input on important decisions, ask them to respond to your questions by email, preferably without the “reply all” function.

Following Up on What You Say Is as Important as What You Say

Trustworthiness is one of the most underrated communication skills for leaders. There are no hacks or shortcuts to gain to keep your employees’ trust. The only way to get people to trust you is to act in ways that show them that their trust is well placed. Being approachable helps, but it is only the beginning. Strike up brief conversations with employees in the hallway, the break room, or the elevator. More importantly, remember what they said, and pick up where you left off the next time you see them. As a result, your employees will feel like you know each other, and not like you are just struggling to make random small talk.

Following up on promises is even more important than following up on apparently inconsequential conversations. If you promise to respond to someone’s request by 5:00 pm on Friday, then email them by 5:00 pm on Friday. If you have not been able to do what they requested or find the information they sought, then send them an email to say that you are still working on it. The important thing is that you take the initiative to follow up.

Bosses who make big promises are a dime a dozen. The leaders who are truly successful are the ones who remember what they promised and who take the recipients of the promises seriously. Your trustworthiness remains even when things don’t turn out as you planned when you are proactive and transparent in your communication. If you tell your employees what you attempted to do and what the result was, even if it is less than ideal, they will think you are honest. If you make big promises and then don’t follow up, you are no better than a charlatan who promises the moon and stars and then skips town.

Nonverbal Communication Is More Than Just Body Language

Communication is about more than just words. There are entire corners of the Internet dedicated to nonverbal communication skills advice, and most of it will not improve your leadership communication. In a famous Ted Talk, Amy Cuddy, a psychologist who wrote about the power pose, discusses how people misunderstood her advice. Body language is no substitute for clear verbal communication. It is also no substitute for genuine professional competence.

Furthermore, much of our body language is not the result of conscious choices. It takes tremendous effort to change the way you stand, sit, and walk. Changing your facial expressions is even harder. This is not the best investment of your time unless you are a professional actor. Ashton Kutcher does not bear an especially strong physical resemblance to Steve Jobs, but he mimicked Jobs’ body language and facial expressions so closely when portraying Jobs in a biopic that it was impossible to tell them apart.

You do not have to be an A-list actor to be a successful manager. You don’t have to nod your head to show that you are listening. Instead, your subsequent actions should show that you were listening. A classic example is the catered lunch. If you bring foods that each team member likes and provide options that exclude foods that some team members don’t eat, your team will know that you were paying attention. It is possible to show that you were paying attention even if your “screen saver face” looks bored or annoyed.

Developing Leadership Within Your Organization

Improving your communication skills for leaders will help your team perform better, but it will not solve all the problems in your organization. A leader is only as effective as the least effective member of the team that he or she is leading. Therefore, it is equally important to empower the members of your team to communicate better.

Your employees may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas with you one-on-one instead of in front of a group. They might also feel more comfortable sharing their ideas by email instead of in person. When an employee shares an idea that you like and want to share with others, tell the employee so. Ask for permission to share the employee’s suggestion with the group. If the employee says yes, then give the employee credit when sharing his or her idea with the group. When you do this, you build employees’ self-confidence and make them feel valued. You also foster communication among members of your team.

Another way to develop leadership skills among your team members is to give employees as much flexibility as possible to manage their own time and workflow. When employees feel that a micromanaging boss is dominating their time and their creative process, it is terrible for employee morale. It is not true work-life balance when you tell employees that they must spend X number of hours per week exercising in the company gym. It is work-life balance when you tell them that an assignment is due at a certain time, but you let them manage their own time in completing it.

People With the Gift of Gab Need Communication Skills Training, Too

Your extraverted personality and verbal wit have probably helped you a lot in your management career, but you still have more to learn. Workshops on communication skills for leaders can help you learn a wide variety of communication strategies. You will also learn which strategies are most effective in which contexts. In these workshops, you can learn different methods of conflict resolution in your work environment. Team building is another aspect of the workplace that thrives on effective communication.

PeaceComm offers communication skills training programs in various formats for managers and employees. Schedule a consultation so that you can get started leading your team to a more successful future.