How to Communicate Effectively as a Leader

As a speaker, I give about five presentations to various groups over the course of a month. Recently I was preparing for an event where there would be 500 people in attendance, and even though the presentation was only an hour-long and similar to what I’ve delivered before, I invested a lot of time and focus to prepare.

When it was time to deliver my presentation, I was confident and ready, and the impact of my keynote on those in attendance showed.

The week after this presentation, ACHIEVE’s monthly organization-wide meeting was scheduled. At these meetings, our leadership team regularly tries to present information and insights in an inspiring way, but sometimes our remarks fall flat. Because this meeting is internal and happens regularly, the truth is that I rarely put the same level of energy into preparation that I would for a keynote speech.

Given the impact of my presentation the week before, I decided to try a little experiment. Instead of no or minimal preparation, I put more focus toward planning my introductory remarks for the staff meeting – I gave the same amount of time and attention I would for a larger audience. And as you could imagine the result was similar – my remarks were more inspirational and better received than they previously have been. It was a stark reminder that if our staff are our most important organizational resource, I should give my communication with them as much attention as I would if I were preparing for a keynote presentation for 500 people.

A key part of communicating effectively is to simply invest time and energy into preparation – to give our communication efforts the attention they deserve.

As leaders, we regularly communicate with our staff. We write emails and memos, facilitate meetings, and give organizational updates. Our staff look to us for information, guidance, and inspiration. The words we use matter and either have an impact or fall flat. And when we don’t give attention to our communication, we risk saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, and we risk losing employee engagement.

The benefits of effective communication are that you are better able to inform, guide, and assure and inspire those you are leading – these are all good and needed things. At a fundamental level, if your staff are not hearing from you, they will make up their own reality – and it won’t always be positive. But leaders who communicate effectively will improve employee engagement and, in the end, promote productivity.

A key part of communicating effectively is to simply invest time and energy into preparation – to give our communication efforts the attention they deserve. However, in addition to time and energy, there are eight principles I’ve learned are key to communicating as a leader. Giving attention to the following areas will help you communicate your message in the way you intend it to be heard:

Remember that you’re always on.

It’s important to understand that you are always communicating. Every interaction you have, word you say, or gesture you make is being listened to and watched by staff. So be aware that you are forever in the spotlight and always delivering a message.

Be authentic.

If you are not honest and sincere in your communication, staff will see through it and tune you out. So be sure to drop the “corporate speak” and communicate with your real voice. Staff will respect and be inspired by authentic communication, but they will be turned off by anything else.

Keep it simple.

Keep your messages short and simple, not long and convoluted. Keeping things simple increases the likelihood that staff will comprehend what you are saying, and if action is required, they will know how to implement what you are asking them to do.

Be direct.

Be honest and transparent in your communication. Don’t sugarcoat or withhold information from staff – they will know.  If you want your staff to trust you, you have to be direct. If you can’t share certain information, come right out and say it because providing only partial answers breeds distrust.

Always be listening.

Effective communicators are also good listeners. When you listen well, you gain a clear understanding of how people are feeling and what is needed from leadership. In your conversations with others, listen for the meaning of the message itself and listen for any emotions behind it. This will help inform you of what and how to best communicate about a given situation.

Be inspirational.

One of your roles as a leader is to provide inspiration to those around you – especially in times of crisis. That is why it’s up to you to rally your team and motivate them to work towards your common purpose. Monitor the mood of your staff so you can look for opportunities to provide inspiration in times when they need it most.

Use catchy phrases.

This may seem awkward for some, but little phrases that highlight your message can catch on and easily become adopted as guiding mantras. For example, two phrases that are part of our innovative culture are “What’s next?” and “Fail fast, fail cheap.” When catchy phrases are adopted by both leaders and staff, they become a part of the everyday vocabulary which strengthens their message.

Repeat yourself.

Communication is very prone to becoming distorted. Whether your message is delivered by email, in-person, or a memo, it will rarely be completely received with the intent you gave it. The best counterbalance to this is to repeat what you have to say often. This helps to cement your message and clarify any assumptions.

Successful communication with our staff and effective leadership are intricately connected and have a large impact on organizational success. In our roles as leaders, we communicate across many relationships and settings, both externally and internally. However, we tend to give more attention to those external groups than our internal staff. My encouragement is that we give just as much attention to our internal communications.

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Randy Grieser, Author & Speaker

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