“Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership.” -Gilbert Amelio/President and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp.
Good communication skills are vital, and every successful organization has leaders who are effective communicators. Some are naturally great communicators, while others must learn and practice to become successful at communicating effectively. Nevertheless, an effective leader must be a great communicator. For example, Julius Caesar, small in stature, deaf in one ear and an epileptic, became the most powerful man in the known world. He knew what to say, how to say it and when to say it. He was a leader whose army was so devoted that they followed him without question and with great success!
Another example of an effective communicator is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s communication skills were so effective that he was able to reach and bring together people of different races and ethnic backgrounds who had been at odds with each other since the beginning of the country. During the segregated climate of 1963, he led the March on Washington to advocate for civil rights for African Americans with over 200,000 Americans of different races and ethnic backgrounds in attendance. Dr. King delivered his significant “I Have a Dream” speech at the march, and the march was later credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Yet another example of a great communicator is Nelson Mandela. Mandela, with powerful verbal and nonverbal communication, helped heal a country divided by apartheid and became a unifying figure. He developed an unbreakable friendship with a young man whose life was shaped by the hardline attitude of the white Afrikaner. These three men had the power to communicate effectively both verbally and nonverbally and used this power to inspire others. This same power to communicate effectively is what leads great organizations to success!
It is clear from the above examples that effective communicators need to master certain communication skills such as using nonverbal cues, listening to others, sharing information and transparency. Let’s take a closer look at each of these key skills.
Non-verbal communication whether intentional or not, includes implicit messages. These types of messages are expressed via non-verbal behaviors such as the following: facial expressions, eye movements and contact, both the tone and pitch of the voice, kinesics or gestures displayed through body language, as well as proximity or the physical distance between the communicators. Since spoken messages are reinforced by nonverbal cues, leaders must be able to master the use of nonverbal cues. Just imagine a leader standing in front of you saying one thing; however, his or her body language is giving off a different message. Of course, you would be confused and wonder what the speaker is really trying to say.
An effective leader must be willing to listen to team members. He or she should not be afraid to listen to their ideas because employees are often more involved in the day-to-day operations of the business and will frequently have better ideas about how things work. Additionally, listening to employees is beneficial because people like to know that they matter, and their leaders are willing to heed their advice. Put another way, listening is essential for building good working relationships.
Do not be afraid to share information. Julius Caesar had a great working relationship with his soldiers and kept them informed. Caesar knew that if he were to get the best out of his soldiers, they needed to have faith in him and know what he expected. It is good practice to inform team members what the performance goals are and why they need to be achieved. Team members cannot know your ideas or desires if they are not shared. Therefore, we cannot expect them to do what we want without first informing them what it is that we want. Leaders who are accomplished at information sharing also seek constructive feedback from others and pay attention to it. Not only will this give the team members involved a sense of purpose, it will also foster a more engaging environment which supports enhanced performance and increased efficiency.
It is important that you treat others with honesty and respect. This reinforces that you are who you represent yourself to be and gives others confidence in you. An effective leader should show and tell employees what he or she means and remain true to it. Nelson Mandela was an honest and transparent leader. Francois Pienaar, Captain of South Africa’s 1995 Ruby World Cup winning team, stated that over 60,000 overwhelmingly white South Africans chanted Nelson when Mandela walked onto the field because Mandela delivered what he had promised. When Mandela became President of South Africa, he could have made dramatic changes to a team that was representative of South Africa’s apartheid state. Instead, recognizing the importance of the team to so many people, Mandela embraced the team even showing up to the game wearing Pienaar’s jersey. Pienaar and others believe that this was a turning point for South Africa. In fact, Pienaar was so impressed that he and Mandela developed a great friendship with Mandela becoming the godfather to his two sons. An effective leader acts as Mandela. He or she sees what is important, makes sure others see it, and always remains faithful to his or her words.
These are just four of many elements affecting communication. However, mastering these four elements will not only improve your communication skills, but will help foster positive relationships with others as well.
For further related reading about communication, check out Alonzo’s blog at www.AlonzoJohnsonPHD.com.