LEADERSHIP AND COMMUNICATION
Communication is the most important skill for leaders since it is the primary tool used to affect behavior. Starting with the end in mind, a leader must have clarity of the outcome he or she desires. What does he or she hope to achieve? Influence? Innovation? Motivation? Education? Persuasion?
At one time or another, we’ve been asked, “What do you want?” This can be a difficult question because the answer requires us to refocus our mentality, see the invisible, or prioritize an overwhelming wish list. But once we know our purpose, we can clearly communicate our intent into the content of our message. It is important at this stage of communication development, to consider carefully the technology to communicate the message because it will either aid or harm the outcome. Leaders spend more time identifying the right venue and opportunity to deliver his or her message than developing the content. In the May- June 2013 Wharton Leadership Digest, Roland Deiser and Sylvain Newton discuss the current challenges organizational leaders face using the latest communication technology-social media.
Although communication basics, technical writing, and presentation techniques never cease to be important, they are best learned and developed with continuous, on –the-job practice. Best practices and recommendations for leadership communication almost never review subject-verb agreement. A leader’s communication skills are judged most often by their affect upon the listener. Utilizing communication tools such as storytelling, metaphors, or well-conceived questions promote greater understanding and meaningful conversation which is the product of good leadership.
However, many leadership experts (Maxwell, Cialdini, Kotter, Goleman) suggest deeper psychological and emotional attributes to leadership communication. For example, to communicate as expected, a leader must have the ability and willingness to communicate at a macro level such as sharing a vision or an idea in a manner that is easily understood and celebrated. A deeper dive on the subject will inevitably lead to Emotional Intelligence (EQ) which Mayer and Salovey (1997) define as the “ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth." A common piece of advice for good communication is the importance of knowing one’s audience. In many ways, emotional intelligence takes this notion further and expands it to include the leader’s ability to proactively perceive and understand the emotional needs and motivations of his or her audience. Furthermore, EQ requires the leader to consider his or her own emotions and how to manage them. A leader with lower EQ is more likely to be consumed or unaware, emotionally betraying their message and purpose. Aspects of a person’s communication style such as word choice, culturally-valued traits (i.e. eye contact), tone, inflection, body language equate to more or less perceived character traits.
Sincerity, goodwill, authenticity, charisma are a few examples of leadership characteristics we perceive from a person's communication skills. As known leaders are analyzed for their “leadership” skills, their communication style is usually cited as evidence of their abilities to influence and motivate. From there, the discussion becomes a game of “chicken and egg”. Were they perceived as good leaders because of their communication style? Or did their communication style make them good leaders? Regardless, these questions demonstrate that communication skills are critical for effective leadership.