12.06.2012 | Monica Graham
As communication practitioners, we’re constantly counseling our clients on how to effectively communicate with a variety of audiences, whether it’s to customers, partners, internally within the organization, or third-party influencers such as media. We often work with CEOs, product developers, engineers and marketing managers to help ensure they stay on message, address questions in a clear and concise manner, and do the myriad things necessary for good communication. But, there are some aspects of communicating that are harder to teach and learn.
We all know that some of the world’s most renowned leaders were also great communicators. Think of history makers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., or well-regarded CEOs and industry influencers such as Steve Jobs. While many of us will not reach the levels of MLK or Jobs, it’s important to realize that in order to inspire and guide others, you must communicate in a clear, credible manner.
Forbes recently ran an article on the “Five Habits of Highly Effective Communicators.” The article resonated with me. It demonstrates that in order to be a leader you must effectively communicate, and in order to effectively communicate, you must understand that authenticity is key. But can you really counsel people on how to be good leaders or how to be authentic? Or is it the natural-born leaders that rise to the top?
Susan Tardanic, CEO of The Authentic Leadership Alliance, a leadership and communications consultancy, shares five essential communication practices of effective leaders. In my opinion, Susan is spot on. From my experience, the leaders that have made the most impact on my life and career have embodied many of these characteristics.
1. Mind the say-do gap. This is all about trust, which is the bedrock of effective leadership. Your behavior is your single greatest mode of communication, and it must be congruent with what you say. If your actions don’t align with your words, there’s trouble. And it can turn into big trouble if not corrected swiftly and genuinely. Since it’s often difficult to see the say-do gap in yourself, rely on a few trusted colleagues to tell it to you straight and flag discrepancies. Rule of thumb: It’s better to say nothing or delay your communication until you’re certain that your actions will ring true.
2. Make the complex simple. Your employees and customers are being bombarded 24/7 by information, making it hard for them to hear you. Simplicity has never been more powerful or necessary. Effective leaders distill complex thoughts and strategies into simple, memorable terms that colleagues and customers can grasp and act upon. If you’re having trouble distilling something to its essence, it may be that you don’t understand it. So get clear and look out for technical jargon and business speak, which add complexity. Say what you mean in as few words as possible.
3. Find your own voice. Use language that’s distinctly your own. Let your values come through in your communication. Often, executives will opt for the sanitized “corporate voice” instead of their own because they think the former is more eloquent, more appropriate. This is not to say that correct grammar and use of language aren’t important — strong leaders know how to string a sentence together. But don’t fixate on eloquence. Concentrate on being distinct and real. People want real. People respect real. People follow real. Don’t disguise who you are. Be genuine, and people will respect you for it.
4. Be visible. Visibility is about letting your key stakeholders get a feel for who you are and what you care about. It’s easy to hide behind a computer and transmit messages to others without seeing or interacting with them. Although e-communication serves a valuable purpose, it is no substitute for face-to-face and voice-to-voice communication. In today’s environment, people are often burned out and need to feel a personal connection to you and the work that you believe in. Do a “calendar test” to make sure you’re allocating time regularly to be out on the floor, in the factory, in the call center, in the lab, in the store. Show your people that you’re engaged and care about them and their work.
5. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Stop, look and listen. Remember that effective communication is two-way. Good leaders know how to ask good questions, and then listen with both their eyes and ears. It’s easy to be so focused on getting your message out — or persuading others — that you don’t tune in to what you see and hear. Because you’re in a position of authority, the stakes are even higher because you won’t always get direct feedback. You need to read between the lines. Listen and hear what is coming back at you. Look for the nonverbal cues. Sometimes a person’s body language will tell you everything you need to know.