By Shakira M. Brown
Amazing leaders are aware of the impact that they have, are self-aware, recognize what their true worth is, what guides them and what their contribution to the organization is – this is the secret sauce for the individuals and teams around them. These leaders are congruent with all that they put across, you just know who they are, a really great leader, someone solid in the foundation of themselves. An essential piece of this confidence is their ability to communicate effectively.
As association leaders, the more open you are to applying a range of communication skills and approachable you are to internal and external stakeholders, the better you lead with precision. Good communicators seem to succeed without effort or preparation. They don’t lose their thoughts, appear flustered, or seem nervous. Is this a sign of talent, or can we all learn to be more effective communicators? The answer is both.
Fortunately, communication is one of the key skills that can be improved most quickly and dramatically. Much of what I have done throughout my career has been focused around helping people and organizations communicate effectively. In most cases I have coached individuals at all levels on how-to reflect and recognize their own communication style and to adapt it as necessary to get the most out of their work plans and stakeholder relationships.
Making the Case for Developing Your Communication Skills
Interpersonal communication skills are the pathway by which all interactions between you and other people are made clear. In busy in-person or virtual work environments, we can easily shift from two-way, meaningful communication, to one-way order giving and receiving communication. One-way conversations are not a part of being an effective leader and neither is giving orders. Is communication a strength for you? If it is, great! If not, it’s one of the things that you will probably be keen to learn. In fact, we can probably all learn a little more about communication.
Managers and leaders of associations of varying sizes should consider relying on the following three elements of communication to build strong bonds with internal and external stakeholders:
- Chemistry. This intuitive feeling of camaraderie is important. Keep a balance of compassion and purpose in your communication.
- Clarity. Clear and upfront expectations build on the relationship foundation. Agreeing on detailed work assignment with exact specifications saves misunderstanding a later. Don’t hesitate to discuss the tasks drawbacks too. Staff members who have a clear picture of the task won’t be taken aback by its downside.
- Consistency. Communication isn’t something you can schedule for once a day, week or month. Constant communication keeps small issues from smoldering and eventually flaring up. Regularly scheduled meetings, combined with daily contact via phone, e-mail, chat or casual conversation, ensures adherence to expectations and performance standards as well as job satisfaction. And when you build the habit of constant and honest communication, your team won’t hesitate to draw your attention to simmering issues that could develop into major problems.
Effective Leaders Display Empathy and that Begins with Being an Active Listener
The behaviors I have observed from the truly great leaders that I’ve worked with and had the pleasure of having conversations with, is that they really observe and notice, they can see what’s happening in their team and they LISTEN. Those leaders who really take the time to listen are those who make a difference and will find that this is reflected back in the conversations they have with their teams.
When we make a decision to listen for total meaning, we listen for the content of what is being said as well as the attitude behind what is being said. Is the speaker happy, angry, excited, sad…or something else entirely?
Active listening entails understanding things from the speaker’s point of view. It includes letting the speaker know that you are listening and that you have understood what was said. This is not the same as hearing, which is a physical process, where sound enters the eardrum and messages are passed to the brain. Active listening can be described as an attitude that leads to listening for shared understanding.
Good listening skills take time to develop, but the investment pays off for teams in the form of producing innovative ideas. Set listening skill development as a team goal. Encourage people to do the following during meetings:
- Take notes. Referring to notes helps you organize the message and that will create greater objectivity when you evaluate it later.
- Reserve judgment. Never interrupt a speaker, even when you feel the person is straying from the point. You may think you know where the speaker is going, but you could hear new information at the end of the person’s comments.
- Stop fearing silence. Always contribute conversation with a clear purpose.
- Create the space to share new ideas. Start offering moments during meeting specifically for idea sharing. This will ultimately lead to innovations to solve challenges internally and externally. Listen silently to see what you can learn.
Be Thankful: Admirable Leaders Convey Gratitude
This is a choice that can be made to significantly improve leadership communication skills. Being thankful shows a human side, evokes transparency and can be incredibly motivational, both to others around you and actually to yourself. It is also incredibly humbling and puts problems, issues and events into perspective. Being thankful also requires sincerity and a constant mindset in order to hone the ability to express thankfulness in a meaningful way.
When the word leadership is used, quite often it is interpreted as someone who has vision, goals and a mission. However, leadership is not an out-of-a-book solution; instead, it is a living breathing organism that has to effectively communicate information, values, ideas and beliefs continuously. As a result, organizations should be viewed as simply a network of verbal and nonverbal conversations, to which a good leader conducts effectively. Association leaders who are able to orchestrate networks of conversations will find that a shared commitment will emerge for the betterment of their organization.
Shakira M. Brown is an award-winning business communication strategist, national professional speaker (www.shakirabrown.com), former network television broadcast journalist, and CEO of SMB Strategic Media LLC (www.pradviser.net). She is a subject matter expert in-person and virtual corporate workshop facilitator and has served as a speaker during TSAE’s New Ideas Annual Conference in 2019 and 2020. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: iStock.com/ilkercelik