One of the essential traits of all great leaders is the ability to communicate effectively. However, communication is a two-way street, and leaders must also practice listening to and understanding an audience. When looking at successful business leaders, exceptional communication is a ubiquitous trait. These individuals understand that they cannot motivate people unless they connect to them on an emotional, and often an aspirational, level.
It isn’t difficult to learn the tools of effective communication. However, it takes a great deal of practice to understand when to apply them. The following are some key ways to communicate more effectively as a business leader:
Maintain an open mind.
You cannot hope to stumble upon truly innovative business opportunities unless you have an open mind. People with closed minds tend to filter out whatever seems contrary to their own opinions and viewpoints. The best leaders actively seek out people with dissenting opinions and, instead of trying to change their mind, strive to understand their point of view. By approaching a situation with an open mind, you can learn something new that reveals a novel business path or better informs current operations.
Speak less, listen more.
Leaders are passionate about their pursuits, and this often leads them to speak constantly about their vision in an effort to recruit people to their cause. While this strategy can convert some people, lecturing is not true communication. A dialogue involves listening to understand the motivations of other people and relating to them on a more basic level. Listening demonstrates that you really care about the thoughts, ideas, and aspirations of those around you. If you seem self-centered, you become much less effective.
Empathy is stronger than ego.
Most leaders have healthy egos, and these egos have helped them to their current position. However, when communicating, it is critical that you keep your ego in check. Prideful arrogance can quickly burn bridges, but true empathy builds lasting business relationships. Empathy demonstrates respect, which is the foundation of any healthy and long-lasting relationship—professional or otherwise. Through empathy, you appear genuine and authentic. Empathy comes with the transparency that makes people trust rather doubt you.
Focus on personal communication.
Formal corporate messages are not effective communication because they create a wall between employees and leaders. The best leaders understand the importance of developing personal relationships with as many people as possible, which means engaging in dialogue at the corporate level. An organizational conversation is much more effective than an e-mail because it invites immediate feedback. By opening the floor for feedback, you show that you care about what employees think and you tear down the wall that could exist between you. This wall inhibits honest communication and can keep you out of the loop.
Pay attention to what isn’t said.
Excellent leaders must understand how to read between the lines and pick up on what is not said. This skill depends on your ability to recognize body language and understand how other people prefer to communicate. When you make a big announcement during a company meeting and notice that one typically quiet employee looks perplexed, it is often worth a few minutes to ask one-on-one what the person is thinking. He or she may have a great solution to the problem yet be too shy to suggest it in the context of a massive corporate meeting. Similarly, if you can tell that someone is still disgruntled after a conversation, then you should conclude that the conversation is not really over.
Speak with expertise.
Leaders need to accept the fact that they cannot be experts on every topic related to their organizations. When you do have expertise about a particular subject, you can gain credibility when you speak about it. However, when someone else knows more about the subject, it is wise to let that person communicate the message. Leaders who try to fake it will lose the trust of their employees very quickly. While form is certainly important when speaking, it does not trump substance. Engaging rhetoric can capture people’s attention, but without substance to back it up the audience will quickly lose interest and probably won’t give the speaker a second chance.
Value honesty above all else.
When people do not have trust in a leader, the organization will quickly crumble. While you can do a lot to build trust, the best way is the old-fashioned approach: being honest. Through honesty, you demonstrate integrity and character. Honesty involves more than just telling the truth. Leaders communicate integrity through right actions and honorable decision-making. When trust exists, employees will forgive shortcomings. When a leader’s character is already in question, however, forgiveness is much rarer. Honesty also involves owning up to shortcomings. When you admit a mistake and work to correct it, you will gain much more respect than when you deny the mistake or try to hide it.