By Lindsay Zajac | Ahern, Murphy & Associates, Leader Exchange Facilitator
One of the most critical skills of a leader is the ability to communicate and connect effectively with others. In order for leaders to cast a vision and inspire broad-scale changes, they need to be able to communicate and connect with people on both an intellectual and emotional level.
Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are some of the most highly thought of leaders in history, and they all excelled at communication and connection. Leaders must be mindful of their ability to communicate and connect with the people they lead and work to continuously hone these skills.
The good news is that communication is a skill that you can learn and improve. It is like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.
WHAT IS COMMUNICATION?
Communication is a core leadership skill. It influences success, and it is more than the mechanics of sending and receiving information. Richard Branson says they depended on it to drive the success of the Virgin story. Research indicates effective leadership and effective communication are closely intertwined.
We define effective communication as a leader’s ability to develop and deliver messages that inform, engage, unite and inspire various groups to remain united behind a common purpose and goal. Each group may require a variation in leadership and communication style. Successful leaders can adapt based on the group they are communicating with at each particular moment.
Effective communication involves more than just the words you use. It includes skills like non-verbal communication, the ability to understand your own emotions as well as the emotions of others, active and engaged listening, and the ability to speak assertively when necessary. In fact, one of the most respectful and productive types of communication in the workplace is an assertive communication style as opposed to other styles like passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive.
Assertive communicators share their thoughts and ideas confidently, while being respectful and polite. They readily take on challenges but know how to say no when they need to. These communicators have an ability to make others feel comfortable. You will notice expansive gestures, promoting collaboration and idea sharing, expressing their ideas and feelings in a productive way, good posture, a clear voice, and friendly eye contact.
Tips for improving communication
- Be authentic: people will never willingly follow someone they feel is inauthentic. Be sincere, and don’t try to sound like someone you are not. Let who you are come through in your communication, and people will surely respect and follow your leadership.
- Be direct: say what you mean and avoid hiding behind complexity. Express your needs and ideas with confidence.
- Practice active listening: the greatest communicators are also the greatest listeners. Active listening means listening to understand and not listening to respond. When you truly listen to others, you get to know their needs, gain from their knowledge, and you can better address their concerns. Besides, listening fosters respect, trust, and candor.
- Encourage input: great communicators encourage others to share their ideas especially when they differ from their own. By actively fostering input and transparency, great communicators create a safe place for people to open up.
- Be present: visibility is a form of communication, and your presence means a lot. It lets people know the kind of leader you are. When they see and feel who you are, it becomes easier to connect with them and the work they do.
- Use stories: stories give life to goals, visions, and objectives. People would rather learn from stories than listen to someone telling them what to do. Use stories often — they will help you capture minds and hearts.
WHAT IS CONNECTION?
We define connection as “A link, a relationship, an interconnection, an interdependence, a bond, and an attachment.”
While many people understand the importance of effective communication in leadership, very few have been taught the significance of building meaningful connections. In “Everyone Communicates Few Connect, What the Most Effective People Do Differently” John Maxwell explains that connecting increases influence in every situation. Connecting is all about focusing on others. It goes beyond words and it requires energy. Lastly, connecting is more skill than natural ability. When you think of a coach, teacher or mentor in your life who had the biggest impact, chances are, they found a way to build a meaningful connection with you.
A connected leader is someone who cares about others. They are emotionally intelligent with a high level of self-awareness. Connected leaders are approachable, they actively collaborate with their team, they come across as human, they encourage and support their team, and they value honest conversations.
For a leader to inspire, there must be a human connection. Howard Schulz, the former CEO of Starbucks, is a good example of a legendary leader who can connect to people’s hearts and minds. A leader who can create connections leads through influence which allows people to be more productive and helps align their behaviors with the leader’s goals.
For connection to be effective, a leader must be genuine and demonstrate behavioral integrity. The leaders we have mentioned were able to create connections — and that is why they are still admired today.
Practices for connecting
- Create an experience everyone enjoys: when leaders create a pleasant and enjoyable experience, it can help people remain focused and motivated to achieve their goals.
- Inspire people: effective leaders know when to provide affirmation, encouragement and support, which inspires their followers to keep going. When you can connect with people’s emotions and values, encouraging them to align to your goals becomes a much easier task.
- Live what you communicate: great leaders know that their credibility is their currency. They must set an example and be a role model. They talk the talk and walk the walk.
- Connect on common ground: successful leaders find commonality. They look for common interests, goals, and ways to connect with the people they are communicating with. Instead of focusing on each other’s differences or the issues that divide them, they focus on what both parties want that is aligned. This ability to strive for common ground helps build alignment and fosters unity.
- Keep it simple: don’t over complicate matters. Effective connectors do the difficult work of simplifying the agenda. Instead of speaking in abstract and complex terms to confuse people or sound important, great connectors can keep the message simple and straightforward to ensure that the message is both understood and remembered.
Communication and connection are key to effective leadership. When a leader creates meaningful connections with others, it becomes easier to collaborate, give direction, problem solve, influence positive change, accomplish goals, deliver against targets, and ultimately get work done through people. And when people feel connected to their leaders, they become more engaged in their work which results in more success.
Cultivating effective communication and connection is crucial, and any leader who wants to be impactful must consistently hone these skills — because they need both to be successful.
Lindsay Zajac: BNP Leader Exchange Facilitator:
Lindsey A. Zajac is an experienced, Human Resources professional with a demonstrated history of excelling in fast-paced organizations including PepsiCo, Eaton Corporation, Saab Sensis and Next Jump. Training and Development, Talent Management, Employee Relations, Recruiting, and Succession Planning are Lindsey’s areas of expertise. Learn more about Lindsay.