Leadership communication is powerful. What a leader says can unite, inspire and clarify. Or, just the opposite – it can divide, anger, and confuse. We’ve all seen how a single email or tweet from a leader has an enormous ripple effect. And although most leaders recognize the importance of great communication, many lack the skills and strategies required to reach the right people with the right message — and at the right time.
In this article, we’ll uncover what leadership communication is, why it matters, and the skills leaders can consistently employ to become more effective communicators.
Leadership communication describes the communication channels, skills, and strategies that leaders use to relay critical information about their organizations — including updates on organizational change, company culture, your mission and core values, and high-level business objectives.
Effective leadership communication is crafted with a strategic and proactive approach that helps leaders solve complex challenges, instill Deep Trust and High Expectations™ cultures, understand diverse perspectives, and power business outcomes.
Although the benefits of successful leadership communication may appear self-evident, you might not realize just how directly your communication ties into your bottom line. In a report on the effects of digital communication in the workplace, Forbes revealed that poor communication reduces trust in leadership and work teams for more than 40% of workers. That same report also shares that nearly half of all workers believe their productivity is negatively impacted by poor communication.
Even leaders who are convinced that communication is important may not realize the time and effort required to turn ideas into action. Harvard Business School professor John Kotter estimates that most leaders under-communicate their vision by a factor of 10. The key, therefore, to transformational leadership lies in overcommunicating a company’s purpose, values, and mission.
Put simply, clear and consistently reinforced communication is the difference between a business strategy that collects dust and one that compels your employees to take action.
As you work to develop your leadership communication skills, keep these best practices in mind:
For every message you deliver, no matter how big or small, it’s critical to first take the time to consider what you want your audience to know, feel, and do. This ensures leadership communication is meaningful, and impactful, and achieves your intended outcome.
Segmenting your audience into distinct groups can help you tailor your message to better reach your people. For example, it may be helpful to segment based on hierarchy for internal communications and consider how your message will resonate differently with employees, managers, and other leaders. Remember to be clear, and give the appropriate context up front, to ensure your messaging lands.
Speak from the heart — people pay more attention when you connect your message to their thoughts, feelings, and purpose within the organization. Truly think about your people, what may be on their minds, and what they might be going through when you deliver communications to them.
Empathic leadership is all about understanding emotions and perspectives of the people who comprise your business. What is the current emotional climate of your organization? What is happening internally within the company, and more broadly around the world? Be sensitive to this as you communicate with your team. Be prepared, not just to speak, but to be curious and to listen deeply to feedback, concerns, and questions from your team.
Words can energize or polarize. Use words and messages that are universally understood and avoid slang or jargon. It’s especially important to be aware of differences in meaning if you’re speaking to a global audience and your message may be translated into other languages.
Take the time to think about the variety of viewpoints and backgrounds of your individual team members and how your message will be received.
You already know your team. But do your communications reach them? Consider different mindsets and perceptions when developing your message, no matter how big or small. Use the “know, feel, do” approach by asking yourself the following questions:
A strong leadership communication plan considers objectives, context, audience, timing, and channels. These help you craft the right message and — when executed well — ensure your communications are accepted, understood, and acted upon.
Be human. Communication is most effective when those on the receiving end “see” you — let your personality and values show up in your words. When you communicate with authenticity, you create deeper trust with your team.
Leadership is all about showing up and being present for your people, and the same goes for how you communicate — especially when leading through change. In the wake of major company communications, your strategy should give room for dialogue, including time for questions and follow-up sessions to debrief on anticipated bottlenecks, resourcing requirements, and action plans to move forward.
Visibility is even more critical for displaced teams and remote workforces. Before you release communications, evaluate the channels and technologies that will best showcase your visibility as a leader — even without a physical presence.
Crafting a story around your communications not only helps you connect with your audience at a human level, but it also presents information in a way that “sticks.” That’s because people remember stories 22 times better than facts alone.
Much like your favorite books, shows, and movies, corporate storytelling is centered around your core message, features a cast of relatable “characters” (who reinforce the connection between your audience and your message), and offers a final resolution (or takeaway) to the principal message you relay.
Soliciting feedback from your audience ensures that your organization’s communication is not a one-way street. However, your feedback channels need to be intentionally designed before employees will engage with them in earnest.
Regular surveys, onboarding and exit interviews, and consistent touchpoints with your management-level leaders will help you keep a pulse on the organization and fine-tune your communications approach. Additionally, encouraging a culture built on feedback can remove any stigmas around feedback, empower your employees to share their best ideas, and reinforce a regular feedback loop.
For leaders, communication isn’t part of the job—it is the job. By sharpening your personal communication skills and developing a greater communications strategy with your team, you’ll help your people navigate through the changes and demands of today’s fast-paced business environment.
Looking for ways to become an effective leader by improving your communication techniques? Download our Effective Communication Planning Guide for Leaders.