effective leadership communication strategies deconstructed (and powerful)
The bottom line of the most effective leadership communication strategies relates to whether you can correctly answer these two questions:
What is your purpose for the communication?
What is the best way, in a given situation, to make your purpose clear?
Of course, answering these two questions is not always that simple. After all, if everyone knew the best way to communicate clearly, there wouldn’t be volumes of literature devoted to “becoming a better communicator”! And speaking of those volumes of literature- although some are helpful, many of them may actually overcomplicate the issue. Who has time for that?
Good news for you though:
I will simplify this process for you by distilling the majority of your business leadership communication strategies down to 2 lists: purpose and procedures (a series of actions). You can combine these lists in various ways to create your own effective leadership communication strategy.
Here they are in short form- I’ll expand on each further down the page.
Other purposes exist for business communications, of course, but in practice they often overlap with these 3 general purposes. Examples of other purposes for business communications include negotiation, forums, and reviews.
Also remember that for every specific purpose you have in mind, you need to define an expected outcome. (I’ll explain this in further detail).
It makes sense to you already that you can’t clearly communicate instructions using the same strategy that you would use to persuade or simply share information. Purpose changes everything! So every time you set out to communicate something, think about purpose first.
In the same way you consider your purpose each time you communicate, you will also want to focus on a short list of procedures to include in your communication strategy. For example, when communicating to an executive team you will most likely plan to be brief. Executives may essentially want you to “hit the high notes”. They don’t have time to be in the trenches of day-to-day operations. As a result, they depend on you to make critically important, relevant, and BRIEF points. Further, it’s not your high notes, but theirs.
On the other hand, if you are trying to persuade someone to buy something, approve a budget increase, hire a person you recommend, etc.- you need to have more data at hand to support your case. Being too brief in this situation would be considered being unprepared!
The more that you advance in your career- whether you are leading teams, assuming new responsibilities, or managing changes in your evolving business environment, the more important it is for you to possess and exercise effective communication skills.
So, let’s look at ways to use and combine these lists to create your own effective leadership communication strategy.
Whether you are an experienced communicator or not, this simple approach can help you become a more effective communicator than you are right now. Consequently, you will also become a more effective leader- in any large or small environment or business setting.
Effective leadership communication strategies start with knowing your purpose
Do you agree with the old adage “The work speaks for itself”? Let me tell you right now, it’s not exactly true!
You may be completely effective at your job while showing great skill, competency, and potential.
You may be a skilled analytical and strategic thinker.
You may have great insight with your company’s product or service offering.
You might be considered a “thought leader” at your company. You may even demonstrate the ability to hire, manage, and develop talent.
These are all great skills and talents necessary to be a great leader. No doubt.
But what about communication or better yet, effective leadership communication? Is that an important quality of an effective leader? The very short answer is yes!
According to a recent Fortune Magazine article, effective communication is 1 of only 5 CRITICAL leadership success factors. In other words, being an effective communicator is an essential, required, non-negotiable skill you must possess to be an effective leader.
Your work IS always important, but its value is always enhanced through your effective leadership communication strategies in the workplace. And it begins with knowing your purpose.
Effective leaders are effective communicators because they know the purpose for every communication. Equally important within the purpose, is recognizing and anticipating the expected outcome. This gives you an inherent measurement of the effectiveness of your communication. If the outcome varies significantly from what you expected, maybe you need to re-evaluate your communication strategy in that instance.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -U.S. President John Q. Adams
Here are some communication examples and expected outcomes for each of the 3 purposes.
Provide a status
Communicate policy or procedure
Deliver a report or summary
Have a question and answer dialogue
Expected outcome: Your audience understands the information you deliver and what (if any) action is required from them.
Have a teaching or training session
Direct someone to perform a task or job
Delegate a responsibility to someone on your team
Expected outcome: Your audience learns to perform new tasks, to improve performance of current tasks, or to fulfill new or different responsibilities. It is clear to the audience what actions are required of them after the communication.
Have a sales conversation with a prospect
Speak with someone about a request for funding or payroll additions
Convince someone of your position or recommendation
Expected outcome: A sale made, budget approved, agreement with your recommendation (or an agreed-upon compromise).
Effective leadership communication isn’t just about using the correct type of communication for a given situation. Effective leaders communicate with purpose and always know the expected outcome in every leadership opportunity. Always. You can too!
Leadership and communication: Procedures
As I said earlier, effective leaders always know the purpose of a communication and have at least a general idea of an expected outcome.
In addition, they also create an effective communication strategy by incorporating 1 or more of the following 4 procedures into their overall communication plan. These procedures should be included in yours as well.
1. Keep it Brief- Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Have you ever been in a meeting or a conversation where the speaker or presenter is saying a lot but not really saying much? I have. Worse, at times, I’ve been that speaker!
Effective leaders keep it brief and deliver their message in a way that meets the audience’s expectations while still achieving their expected outcome.
Be the effective communicator that gets to the point, up front, without a long-winded introduction or explanation.
Here are 3 key tips that will help you keep your communications brief:
Match the attention span
Most professionals’ attention spans are short and you run the real risk of losing your audience and your expected outcome with:
1) The longer you speak
2) The more words you use, and
3) The more words you use that don’t support your primary point or message
Assume that you don’t have your audience’s full, undivided attention. More than likely, they have several ideas concurrently running through their minds, some of which may not have anything to do with you or your message.
Meet the Expectation
Many times you’ll listen to communicators who insist on sharing the critical piece of information at the end, in order to create a build-up. Sadly, they lost their audience a long time ago. Worse, the speaker’s expected outcome doesn’t materialize.
Share the News Upfront- Good or Bad
Sometimes speakers have to share unfavorable news. Follow the same approach: Keep it brief. Share the unfavorable news upfront and your audience respects you more for it. It also lowers your audience’s real or perceived tension. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a communication that seems to get worse by the minute?
This Forbes article reinforces these 3 key tips when you’re communicating with executive leadership.
Now that you have trimmed your message down to the few but critical points, take the time to find out more about who makes up your audience.
2. Know your Audience- Know what they know, and what they don't know
Lack of preparation usually is a key contributor to failure. Without question, it is the same with communication as well. One of the major mistakes ineffective communicators make is that they don’t know their audience. They assume that someone, anyone, knows everything that they know. And worse, they do not believe that effective communication requires diligent preparation and intent.
Here are 3 key tips that will help you know your audience:
Know the players and their roles before the game begins
Yes, that was a sports analogy, but it directly applies in business as well. Effective communication begins with knowing who you’re speaking with – and who’s speaking with you.
Are you communicating with:
- individuals who have historical knowledge of the topic at hand?
- people who are technically minded or not?
- the right decision makers?
- senior leadership?
Your communication needs to match your audience, their knowledge of the subject, and their anticipated outcome of the conversation as well. It is not only about you communicating your talking points. In many conversations, your audience has expectations too. Consequently, the expected outcome needs to meet the audience’s expectation from the conversation as well. Effective communicators prepare beforehand to ensure that their strategy addresses this.
Realize perspectives aren't always the same
Not everyone shares your perspective. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But if you don’t understand your audience’s perspective, then your communication will be ineffective.
Here are some examples of your audience’s differing perspectives:
- The sales team is interested in selling the new and exciting product but operations has concerns that it’s not ready for market.
- Human resources wants to fill open positions with contractors but finance is concerned with the additional expense.
- The training department is excited about holding a training session this month for a new systems launch but the I.T. team will not have it ready for use until much later this year.
Key tip: The larger or more diverse the audience you’re communicating with, the larger and more diverse the perspectives on the topic at hand will be. Effective leaders always communicate to an audience fully knowing the perspectives of the room.
Know how much detail is appropriate
Have you ever been involved in 2 separate conversations, sometimes even back to back, where 1 conversation is too detailed and the other isn’t detailed enough? I have been in that situation plenty of times.
With respect to detail, effective communicators possess 3 skills, which you can too, if you know what they are:
1) They understand the type of conversation before it begins. Essentially, is the topic, the agenda, or the format designed to discuss information that is detailed in nature or higher level?
2) They understand how to change direction (getting more or less detailed), regardless of whether they’re leading the conversation or not. They determine the direction of the discussion based on the conversation’s tone, pace, and audience participation. Effective communicators speak with great ease whether sharing detailed information or not.
3) They never lose sight of the expected outcome, even if they’re not in complete control of the conversation. Most noteworthy, effective communicators are not always in full control of a conversation or group meeting. In fact, it’s a rarity. Effective communicators as effective leaders do not lose sight of the expected outcome or why the conversation is taking place. Therefore, if you find yourself in a conversation that seems to be going in a direction that conflicts with your expected outcome, steer the conversation back to its original focus. Alternatively, you can use the ending to summarize the key points to, again, maximumize the probability that you will acheive the expected outcome.
3. Listen to your audience (verbal and non-verbal)
Focused listening is one of the most underrated skills found in effective leaders.
Here’s are 2 significant reasons why:
1) All too often professionals focus most of their attention on determining when they can make their next comment. In some ways, they simply cannot wait for you to make your point. Have you ever been interrupted or talked over in a conversation or a meeting? Exactly my point.
Effective leaders clearly understand that talking over or interrupting someone is not effective listening. By doing so, they can miss hearing relevant and sometimes differing viewpoints to the topic of conversation. In fact, effective leaders, as effective communicators, listen to their audience even if it is an audience of one. They go into every conversation fully knowing and fully expecting their audience to add significant value to the conversation.
2)Listening is not a passive activity. It is very much an active, intentional effort that also produces significant rewards.
Effective leaders, as effective communicators, are active listeners. They put forth the effort in every conversation and group meeting to listen to the speaker. Remember, active listening always contributes to creating effective leadership communication strategies.
Traits of an active, effective listener:
They do not drift off or lose attention during the conversation. They hang on every word. They either take notes or repeat back key talking points during the conversation.
They listen to verbal cues. Effective communicators 1) listen for and 2) key in on repeat words, phrases, or topics. If the same question or a variation of it is repeatedly asked, effective communicators know how to answer the question a little differently until the audience is satisfied.
Effective listeners know that non-verbal cues exist. Have you ever been in a conversation or a group meeting and the audience seems to have a blank stare or a confused look as if they don’t know what you’re talking about? That look is quite real, mainly because your audience is indeed giving you that message through a classic non-verbal cue. More significant non-verbal cues are when your audience reaches for their phone, a folder or paper, or worse – dozes off! If you’re the speaker, your audience’s eyes should be focused on you and your message.
Remember, effective communication is a two-way dialogue, sometimes involving non-verbal communication. Effective leaders, as effective communicators, confidently key-in on and understand non-verbal cues.
4. Share your perspective (not your opinion)
Your perspective is required. I discussed earlier that effective leaders are effective active listeners. They also share their perspective, which is the 4th part of an effective communication strategy.
Effective leaders have a perspective on everything. More importantly, they know that their perspective is not only required, but can benefit the conversation at hand. Every time.
If you’re like me, your career has been constantly filled with challenge and change. In other words, you work in the arena of ideas and your perspective is an invaluable characteristic of being an effective leader.
I want to be clear though. Perspective is not only an opinion. Everyone has those.
Perspective is rooted in experience, knowledge, information & data, or some tangible form of fact or truth. That is what separates perspective from opinion. And when communicated through the traits and strategies that I’ve shared with you, effective leaders can really shape effective communication through the sharing of their perspective.
Effective leaders do not take communication for granted, knowing that it is a critical success factor in every leadership situation.
Communication is purposeful and an active rather than passive activity. Effective communicators enter into every conversation having an expected outcome in mind. With every different conversational opportunity, effective communicators clearly understand their audience and their roles and the type of detail to communicate. In addition, they take the available opportunities to share their perspective.
You, too, can become an effective communicator. Use the effective leadership communication strategies that I offer in this blog. I assure you, your confidence and effectiveness will increase as you develop into a more effective leader.