This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.
It is simply impossible to become a great leader without being a great communicator. I hope you noticed the previous sentence didn’t refer to being a great talker – big difference. The key to becoming a skillful communicator is rarely found in what has been taught in the world of academia. From our earliest days in the classroom we are trained to focus on enunciation, vocabulary, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax and the like. In other words, we are taught to focus on ourselves. While I don’t mean to belittle these things as they’re important to learn, it’s the more subtle elements of communication rarely taught in the classroom (the elements that focus on others), which leaders desperately need to learn. In today’s column I’ll share a few of the communication traits, which if used consistently, will help you achieve better communication results.
It is the ability to develop a keen external awareness that separates the truly great communicators from those who muddle through their interactions with others. Examine the world’s greatest leaders and you’ll find them all to be exceptional communicators. They might talk about their ideas, but they do so in a way which also speaks to your emotions and your aspirations. They realize if their message doesn’t take deep root with the audience then it likely won’t be understood, much less championed.
I don’t believe it comes as any great surprise that most leaders spend the overwhelming majority of their time each day in some type of an interpersonal situation. I also don’t believe it comes as a great shock that a large number of organizational problems occur as a result of poor communications. It is precisely this paradox that underscores the need for leaders to focus on becoming great communicators. Effective communication is an essential component of professional success whether it is at the interpersonal, inter-group, intra-group, organizational, or external level. While developing an understanding of great communication skills is easier than one might think, being able to appropriately draw upon said skills when the chips are down is not always as easy as one might hope for.
Skills acquired and/or knowledge gained are only valuable to the extent they can be practically applied when called for. The number one thing great communicators have in common is they possess a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness. The best communicators are great listeners and astute in their observations. Great communicators are skilled at reading a person/group by sensing the moods, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of those being communicated with. Not only do they read their environment well, but they possess the uncanny ability to adapt their messaging to said environment without missing a beat. The message is not about the messenger; it has nothing to do with messenger; it is however 100% about meeting the needs and the expectations of those you’re communicating with.
So, how do you know when your skills have matured to the point that you’ve become an excellent communicator? The answer is you’ll have reached the point where your interactions with others consistently use the following ten principles:
1. Speak not with a forked tongue: In most cases, people just won’t open up to those they don’t trust. When people have a sense a leader is worthy of their trust they will invest time and take risks in ways they never would if their leader had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity. While you can attempt to demand trust, it rarely works. Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decisioning. Keep in mind people will forgive many things where trust exists, but will rarely forgive anything where trust is absent.
2. Get personal: Stop issuing corporate communications and begin having organizational conversations – think dialog not monologue. Here’s the thing – the more personal and engaging the conversation is the more effective it will be. There is great truth in the following axiom: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Classic business theory tells leaders to stay at arms length. I say stay at arms length if you want to remain in the dark receiving only highly sanitized versions of the truth. If you don’t develop meaningful relationships with people you’ll never know what’s really on their mind until it’s too late to do anything about it.
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