Collin Powell once said, "Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.” Nowhere is a leader’s art more evident than in his or her ability to communicate. In fact, business communication is the foundation of true leadership. Today we visit nine areas of communication that leaders should keep in the forefront of their minds.
1. Public speaking
Great leaders possess the ability to move groups of people. This calls for leaders to conquer their public speaking fears. In addition, it means that leaders must continually elevate their ability to communicate with small and large groups of people. I encourage leaders to embrace mindset that, speaking in front of people is an honor. As such, it becomes a leader’s duty to put audiences at ease while stimulating them to action with their words. Hone your public speaking skills by using your tone of voice as an instrument, and orchestrate your body language so as to reinforce your message.
2. Presentation skills
Leaders make countless formal and casual presentations. Unfortunately, most of them are ineffective. Make certain your presentations sizzle. Whether delivering a presentation to a board of directors or simply explaining procedural changes to three people, strive to make your presentations stand out. This calls for preparation and practice, something far too few leaders engage in prior to delivering a presentation. Also remember that PowerPoint is merely an accompaniment; you are the presentation.
3. Effective meetings
Over the past few years I have surveyed over three thousand professionals and asked them this question: “What percentage of time that you spend in meetings is useful?” Take a moment and answer that question honestly. What percentage came to your mind? Odds are good that your answer is similar to the vast majority of my respondents. Less than fifty percent of meeting time is useful. In fact, most professionals tell me that only twenty percent of their meeting time is worthwhile. In fact, only six people out of three thousand stated that up to sixty percent of their time spent in meetings was useful.
These results highlight the opportunity for leaders to make meetings a much more effective use of time. Some best practices to consider include preparing a detailed and time-sensitive agenda, starting and ending meetings on time, and using tools such as time-outs and parking lots to keep meetings from being hijacked. Bonus points go out to those leaders who do not simply go through the motions while facilitating a meeting and instead, make it an engaging group experience.
4. Asking great questions
Unless a leader possesses the ability to ask strategic questions, they will never fully understand difficult situations or be able to solicit a team member’s candid opinion. The information unlocked by terrific questions is rich and meaningful. Thus, leaders must be adept at asking conversational versus interrogational questions. Asking great questions gets team members thinking. It also gives the leader an opportunity to sincerely listen.
5. Listening like your life depended upon it.
The two-ears-to-one-mouth axiom is a good one to remember. Listen about twice as much as you speak. Unfortunately, the stress of duties and deadlines can turn even the best of leaders into a seething interruption and solution-mode machine. There are far too few leaders who, in the throes of a stressful day, are able to focus their full attention on another person and listen completely. The ability to listen fully shows respect for team members, and clearly differentiates a leader from a manager. Seek to continually heighten your ability to listen, and encourage your direct reports to echo your commitment.
When leaders ask great questions and listen attentively, they position themselves to repeat to the speaker what they just heard. While this sounds easy, it is the most difficult verbal skill to master. Particularly because an effective paraphrase calls for a leader to use different vocabulary from the speaker, and to avoid sharing an uninvited solution. It should be noted that mindlessly parroting what the other person said is not paraphrasing. Practicing paraphrasing with your colleagues and executive coach is a great way to continually sharpen this important skill. Additionally, practice helps a leader find their own voice regarding paraphrasing. This authenticity helps the listener feel valued. It also naturally blends an important communication technique into a business conversation.
7. Writing well
The English language is difficult to master. According to the Global Language Monitor there are over one-million words in the English language. In addition, there are a litany of convoluted spelling and grammar rules. Thank goodness for spell-check and editors. Let’s face it, writing well is a challenge for most people. Thus, leaders must elevate their writing process at every turn. Seek to be thorough, yet succinct in how you express yourself. Develop a writing style that is professional, but still reflects your personality. Write often and concentrate on correctness. Even if you are constructing an internal memo or adding to your company’s database, practice good writing skills. The more you practice, the quicker you will attain excellence in written business communication.
8. Strategic email
A colleague, while reflecting on his life, recently said to me, “I didn’t think there would be this much typing.” Funny, but true. Thanks to a seemingly endless barrage of email, our business world contains more and more typing, and it is easy to become casual with our responses. This can lead to correspondence containing spelling and grammar errors. Studies have shown our customers and important internal colleagues view our emails with similar importance to a letter from the US Postal Service. These studies resonate with me. For instance, several weeks ago I received a proposal, via email from a vender with whom I was truly looking forward to doing business. At the beginning of their email they misspelled my name. Doug-they misspelled Doug. And they ended the first sentence with a preposition. Immediately I knew I would not do business with them. Why? Because their email reeked of poor quality control. The lesson here is to be maniacal about proof-reading, as well as to tailor your email to your audience. In other words, seek to gain mastery of good email habits.
9. Making messages stick
Daniel Goleman once said, “The leader’s singular job is to deliver results.” From a communication standpoint, this means that the receiver of a leader’s message must understand it fully. Making a message stick is easier said than done. It calls for leaders to craft their messages so that they resonate with their team members. In addition, it calls for clever repetition of important messages. In order to enhance and change behaviors, human beings require repetition. Therefore, important messages must be delivered multiples times, without sounding like a broken record. In order to achieve this end, consider using multiple communication channels and a variety of presentation styles.
Mastering business communication is a life-long journey. View your professional growth in this area as essential. Plan your business communication development like you would a scholastic curriculum and treat your development like a worthy cause. The better a leader communicates, the better his or her team members will perform. In the end, customers and team members alike benefit. All the leader has to do is practice and deliver.