It is no secret that communication is key in any relationship—personal or professional. When it comes to effective and authentic leadership, communication is one of the most vital tools a leader can possess. For companies to succeed, their leaders must communicate effectively with their employees. And when things get tough or employee performance wavers, these same leaders need to be able to have difficult conversations while also inspiring those they lead.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
With communication being so essential, here are key strategies for effective leadership communication.
Why Effective Communication and Clarity in Leadership Is So Crucial
Building a solid foundation of communication and standards within the company is important. This groundwork means creating a safe and open environment where employees feel comfortable giving and receiving feedback. It also means actively listening to employees, valuing their ideas, and addressing their concerns. It is easy to become too transactional—for efficiency’s sake and higher productivity—without nurturing relationships.
Related reading: "Consequences of a Lack of Communication in the Workplace.”
Being clear and concise in communication is imperative. Clarity has power in all forms of communication, whether an everyday conversation or a formal presentation for learning purposes. For a leader to be impactful, they need to consider the following:
- their approach
- the timing
- the purpose of the communication
- the outcome desired
- who they're talking to
Typically, when a leader's demeanor is emotionally intense, or they choose an inappropriate time or place for a serious topic, it often indicates one or more of the following:
- a lack of clarity
- unprocessed emotions
- an uncomfortability in having the conversation
- fear of a reaction
- lack of skill
Having Difficult Conversations Is Imperative When Leading
Let’s face it; we've all had negative experiences at the workplace. However, leaders who postpone or avoid difficult conversations are not leading effectively since avoidance is costly in relationships and companies! We need to have uncomfortable conversations at times; without them, a culture becomes stale. It is the leader’s job to venture into the unknown and shed light in dark places. The feared and unspoken topics are a place to lead and model that even though these interactions can be uncomfortable, they're vital.
When done skillfully, these tough exchanges create a bridge in work relationships to step into our better selves—as leaders and employees. By viewing them as an opportunity for understanding and clarity, they become less intimidating.
Years ago, I managed several dozen people at a large publishing company. Employees would frequent my office with complaints about their supervisors or coworkers.
My response? “Let’s get them in here and work it through.”
Their response? “Oh no! I just wanted to make you aware of the problem.” No one wanted to face the person directly; avoidance is safe. It’s also lonely and fractures team unity.
Although the openings of these conversations were often tense, I required each and every one of them to face their fears.
The outcome? They often left my office laughing.
In the process of open communication, they discovered that avoidance was worse than facing the person. The fear they had built up in their minds was a paper dragon, which understanding between them immediately deflated. Often the stories we tell ourselves are inaccurate; as a leader, getting employees in the same room to talk is indispensable!
These "uncomfortable" meetings cultivated enormous trust between employees and myself. They knew that if someone complained about them, I would hold each accountable to be honest—together! In the long term, the employees started going directly to each other to work through conflicts as their courage and skills developed.
It became a passion of mine to bring insight and understanding between people. Now, I train leaders to build open and honest cultures, be real and promote healthy relationships in the workplace.
Authentic leaders know how to have tough conversations in a positive and encouraging manner. They even make it look effortless because they focus on building rapport and thriving relationships, as well as being intentional with their words. They approach discussions with empathy, curiosity, and a solution-focused mindset.
A successful leader also sets clear standards as a precursor for employee performance. Effective communication provides specific parameters for job responsibilities, constructive criticism, and positive reinforcement. Giving employees real-time feedback helps curtail misunderstandings and confusion, ultimately improving employee performance. Likewise, it is also vital to offer support and guidance for improvement respectfully.
Overall, proficient communication skills are essential for effective leadership and leaders can avoid the top communication mistakes by using basic emotional intelligence skills (listed below). Building a strong foundation within the company's culture and constantly striving for clarity in all interactions with employees will result in positive outcomes for both the leader and their team.
Related reading: "How to Skyrocket Your Results with Authentic Leadership."
3 Emotional Intelligence Skills Needed for Every Leader
The elements of good communication are crucial for great results. Below are three critical emotional intelligence skills that will assist you as a leader to be more effective:
Without self-awareness, it is nearly impossible to know whether or not you're upset and should cool down before handling a problem or engaging with an employee. Raising your self-awareness and deliberately setting an intention to be in the right state before speaking will quickly improve your communication. Check in with yourself and clarify your purpose. Take time to define the ideal objective you desire when interacting with your managers, employees, and teams.
Dig deeper: "Self-Awareness and Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace."
Modulating emotions is key for leaders; it allows them to apply emphasis when needed without unnecessary harshness. Centering yourself first will quickly set a positive tone for communication. Great communicators take the time to:
- calm themselves
- search out the facts instead of jumping to conclusions or taking hearsay as truth
- prevent emotions from hijacking their logic
- get curious and suspend judgment before communicating
- choose an appropriate time and place for pivotal conversations
- determine the outcome they want in advance
Considering the actions above will make even the most arduous conversations easier. Communicating is effortless when emotions are calm and intention is clear.
Empathy allows a leader to understand and value an employee's perspective and experience. Empathizing with the person's situation and how they viewed what happened or why they did a certain thing diffuses intense emotions and lowers defensiveness. When employees feel heard, they are far more likely to listen intently and then act in alignment with what is requested.
Go deeper: “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy in Leadership.”
For more on authentic leadership and how to be a great leader in your life and work, check out our blog and services at Heartmanity for Business.