Young Business People

Effective communication. In management and leadership, there are few other skills that people engage in so regularly, yet fail in so consistently and with so much gusto. The preponderance of leaders who are brilliant, effective managers but who can’t communicate effectively is stunning.

I don’t need to cite stats ad nauseam, since anyone who works in an organization can tell you that business communication and engaging employees is absolutely critical in providing employees the work environment they need to truly succeed. I do, though, like this stat from Towers Watson’s 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study, because I think that it hones in on something crucial:

Just 58% of companies are effective at communicating their corporate values.

Incredible – not only are leaders and managers ineffective communicators, they’re not communicating effectively about THE MOST IMPORTANT aspects of their organization.

So, given that leaders aren’t communicating the key messages as well as they could be, how do we answer this question? How should budding leaders prepare to communicate effectively?

There are obviously many thoughts on this matter and it is both too nuanced and too broad to offer a one-size-fits-all answer, but I think that Harvard Business Professor John Baldoni offers a realistic, concise answer that conforms to the ideas that we’ve witnessed in our work as well.

In an Inc. Magazine article titled How to Lead with Purpose, Baldoni states the following about how leaders can be more effective communicators: “Be yourself, but be aware… Communication is more than words; it is also listening and learning from what you hear and do not hear.”

The beauty of this statement is that it hits perfectly on the realization of the need for self-awareness on a leadership level as well as for a sharp ear for how others approach issues. Leaders can’t simply lead from a “My way or the highway” bubble.

Leadership is about recognizing where one’s strengths lie and capitalizing on those strengths. It’s also about realizing that each and every employee is going to receive information differently and become motivated by different styles of communication and varied messages.

Take a very abstract leader (a fairly common Profile for leaders) – this person sees things in the big picture. Leadership communication means that she asks “Why?” and “What’s the rationale?” and connects dots that many cannot connect. She’s also not naturally wired to care about the details.

This is where self-awareness comes into play—it’s about doing the things that come naturally: ideas, visioning, and questioning.

But it’s also the realization that her team needs to implement this vision. And if that team is filled with concrete thinkers or right-brain thinkers or quiet employees who prefer defined plans and situations, speaking in broad ideas ain’t gonna cut it.

The communication breakdown is already in place and no matter how many other leadership qualities she may possess—accountability, drive, intelligence, purpose, etc.—they’re not being adequately communicated into reality. Communication skills are the key and this is where Baldoni’s simple words can come back even more simply.

Question: How should a budding leader prepare to communicate effectively?

Answer: Be yourself. Understand that others are different and find the ways that they need to receive information to be successful.

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