In a survey by Sunny Giles, president of Quantum Leadership Group, of 195 leaders in 15 countries, six of the top 10 leadership competencies rated by participants involved communication. My own task analysis of leaders’ communication has revealed 18 specific communication skills that leaders need. Here are five that are especially important.

1. Listening

The most important communication skill for leaders is the ability to listen. Professional listening skills include listening for the message, listening for any emotions behind the message and considering relevant questions about the message.

Listening for the message means hearing the facts accurately, without prejudgment or being distracted by other thoughts. It’s also important to listen for any unusually strong stresses in the sentences or other signs of emotion. In training, leaders can practice using role-play; if they hear these signs of emotion, they can respond by saying, “You seem to feel strongly about this. Please tell me more.”

Help leaders consider questions they might ask when someone gives them a new idea:

  • Why am I being given this information?
  • If it’s for a new project, do I have the time and resources to handle it?
  • Is it relevant to the company’s mission?
  • Is there additional information I need in order to understand the meaning behind the message, such as in the case of a potential conflict?

2. Complimenting

People work for more than pay; they want to be noticed and praised for their work.

Compliments are most effective if they are specific to the situation and in writing, so they can be re-read. For example:

  • “You stayed late to finish that report for our client and made sure every aspect of the project was to his specifications. Thank you for your attention to detail and pride in your work!”
  • “I noticed you took extra time to make sure the new employee had a great first day. She was very excited about the company and her new job at the end of the day!”

Use this technique first on those leaders, managers or supervisors who work for you to show them how to do it for their direct reports.

3. Delegating Tasks Clearly

Think of the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why” and “how” as you explain what needs to be done. Explaining the reason (the “why”) is especially vital, particularly in regard to deadlines. Employees may not realize that their job is only part of a series of tasks for a big project. People like to know the reasons they are doing something. Establish check-in times to discuss progress.

4. Managing Meetings

What’s a “good” meeting, from the point of view of the leader, meeting participants and the organization?

Multiply the estimated hourly pay of each person invited to the meeting by the length of the meeting, and decide if the meeting is worth this cost. Would an e-mail do just as well to convey information?

If the purpose of the meeting is to share information, ask talkative attendees closed-ended (yes or no) questions. Via email, ask open-ended questions (such as, “What are your thoughts on …”) to encourage quieter attendees to share their ideas ahead of time, or ask them at the meeting itself. Introverted employees may have great ideas but be reluctant to talk in a meeting.

5. Positive Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

Employees closely observe their leaders. Even if you have just received bad news, when you can be observed by any employees, act positively. The employee grapevine is amazingly fast! Smile and say “hello” to each employee you see.

Excellent communication skills are essential for leadership and for business. Use these strategies to help your leaders become great communicators.

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