How many times have you been in a meeting or listening to a presentation and found your mind wandering? You’re in the room physically but mentally your focus is miles away, and after things adjourn, you realize you missed most of what was said.
How often do you receive emails that you have to read over and over again, trying to discern what the sender is trying to say? How many times have you received instructions, either verbally or written, and done what you thought you were asked to do, only to discover that you missed the mark?
Here’s an even more important question: How many times have you been the person conducting the meeting, giving the presentation, sending the email or providing the direction, and completely lost the people or person you were trying to communicate with?
There are many factors that contribute to someone’s ability to lead, but among the most significant is effective communication. Put quite simply, you can’t be a great leader if you’re a lousy communicator – just ask the people whose minds are wandering in the meetings you conduct.
Communication isn’t just about talking and writing, though. Of course both of those things are very important in terms of having strong communication skills. A solid grasp on the fundamentals of grammar, vocabulary, spelling and syntax is necessary for getting any message across clearly and effectively.
Communication at its best and most influential, however, relies heavily on the intangible element of delivery – how you say what you say, and just as significantly (and maybe more surprisingly) the body language you convey even when you’re not speaking. When you combine a compelling physical presence with strong written and verbal skills, you have the makings of powerful communication and powerful leadership.
Think of all the great speeches ever given, delivered by the likes of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. These renowned leaders communicated so powerfully that their messages transcend time. We’re still talking about what they said decades after they said it. We remember their words and feel compelled to uphold their values.
Because not only was what these leaders said well crafted word for word, commanding language and vocabulary in expert fashion, it’s because their message was delivered passionately and authentically. Churchill, Kennedy and King drew attention because they struck a chord with everyone who was listening. They connected with people, and connection is really what good communication is all about.
Of course most of us aren’t leading a social revolution or reassuring fellow citizens in the midst of war, but the principles of effective communication are the same whether you’re in the boardroom or on the world stage.
The question, therefore, is this: Can you learn to be a great communicator, or is the ability to communicate effectively something a person is born with?
The answer in both cases, is yes.
Communication skills are like a muscle – they get stronger with use. So if you’re not a natural born communicator, you’ll have to practice to get better, and you’ll need a few pointers to get started.
- Walk Your Talk. Authenticity is the basis of great communication (and great leadership) because without authenticity you can’t establish trust. Trust is what makes people believe in you and choose to follow your lead. Establishing trust is an exercise of embodying your values every single day.
- Get Personal. The essence of good communication is connection, so if you want your message to have impact, you’ve got to get real. Move past superficial dialogue and writing, and strive instead to relate to people on a human level, person to person.
- Be Specific. Inspiration is the engine that runs any organization, but clear direction is how tasks get accomplished. Be clear and specific in terms of your expectations and requests. Follow up to make sure you’ve been understood. Check in as needed.
- Listen More Than You Speak. Leadership isn’t about personal conviction. It’s about understanding the needs of the people in your charge. Tune into what your people are telling you and base your communication with them on how to address their needs and concerns.
- Get Clear With Yourself. Ambiguity won’t do when it comes to leadership and communication. What do you believe in? What do you stand for? What are your values? Own them and hold fast.
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