Communication Skills for Leaders
Be clear about what you need from others.
As a leader, if you want to improve your communication skills, start by being clear about what you need from your team. As a team leader, you need to be specific about what you require from each team member if they are working on projects, each deliverable or task must be clear and responsibilities assigned, so there is no confusion. This will ensure that each knows what they are supposed to do for you. Not being specific about what you wish each team member to do opens the risk of your team assuming that the task was going to be done by someone else.
Follow up verbal communication with written communication
There is nothing wrong with verbal communication. But good leaders follow verbal communication with written communication so that there is no misunderstanding or misinterpretation of instructions - be it through a letter or email. Take the time to be comprehensive in written communication and emphasise important things that employees need to be aware of when executing their tasks.
Be clear about your time frames
Because in businesses, it is natural for teams to work on multiple projects and tasks at the same time, it is essential for the leader to lead teams in prioritising critical tasks and projects and be clear about time frames for completing tasks and projects. Failure to do so may result in conflict between you and your team as they may not prioritise your tasks or complete them at the time you expected.
Follow up on tasks
After assigning projects, a leader needs to follow up with the team to check on the project’s progress on a continuous basis. This is to ensure that you provide guidance where guidance is necessary, open doors where this is needed and coach where coaching is needed. It also allows you to communicate and stay engaged with your team.
Adapt your communication to different circumstances
As a leader, you need to be able to adapt your communication to different circumstances. For instance, you may have prepared a message for an occasion. But when you arrive, you realise that the audience or the mood necessitates a different message. Leaders with communication skills must think on their feet and adapt their message accordingly depending on the changed circumstances.
In addition, leaders need to have communication skills to motivate, cajole, encourage, direct, and instruct people.
Understand your audience
Good leadership communication skills go with understanding the audience and the issues that matter to them. For instance, you may need to switch languages to reach an audience in places where multiple languages are spoken.
Taking time beforehand to understand pertinent issues that matter to your audience is essential to ensure they stay engaged and listen to what you have to say. Understanding the audience means communicating in simple spoken language if you are addressing ordinary folk and elevating your language or adding industry jargon if addressing a business audience.
Understanding your audience, speaking to their issues and speaking their language will help you to turnaround sometimes volatile and even hostile audiences.
Be a good listener
One critical communication skill is listening to others and understanding where they come from—not second-guessing them, finishing sentences for them, or anticipating what they will say. Good listeners can communicate effectively and respond comprehensively in a measured manner. They have listened and are aware of all the issues. Good listeners are also able to manage difficult situations.
Not being a listener goes with missing some of the problems or issues being said as your mind is already formulating responses even before the person finishes what they want to say.
Create platforms for sharing information and feedback
Leaders with good communication skills create platforms for their teams to share information and provide feedback. These platforms include one-on-one meetings with direct reports and team meetings involving the entire staff. In decentralised organisations, scheduled roadshows and town hall meetings are ideal for information sharing and feedback. Sustained communication and feedback can be achieved through newsletters, news flashes and shared drives.
Receive feedback positively
Leaders must be able to receive feedback from others and process it accordingly. Receiving feedback positively will help you improve the weak areas and become a better leader. It enriches your projects and business as a whole. It also makes employees feel like they matter and that their voices are heard.
Have a key message
Leaders must consider the key message or a few messages they wish to communicate or leave behind. This enables them not to be all over the place but to invest their energy into the message they want their audience to reflect upon when they are gone. Having too many messages dilutes your efforts.
Communication skills training
Good communication skills do not just happen. Leaders must assess their weaknesses and upskill and develop themselves. Various courses are available in the market to improve one's communication skills. They include voice training, presentation, written communication, report writing, copywriting, and many others.
Leaders must exude confidence when communicating as this makes them believable and respected. Confidence comes with knowing your subject matter and being able to respond to questions when asked. It also comes with adequate research and anticipating questions to be asked and having appropriate responses.
Confident leaders rehearse and invest time in dry runs to ensure that they are aware of the environment that they will be speaking or presenting and to be able to avoid making mistakes on the day of the presentation. Rehearsing allows them to understand and familiarise themselves with the equipment they will be using so that everything goes smoothly on the day.
Confidence comes with being properly dressed for the occasion. For instance, if a platform requires formal dress, then a tie and jacket become appropriate. On the other hand, some circumstances require informal clothing such as a T-shirt and jeans.
Good presentation skills
Leaders must have good presentation skills to be able to be effective. They must understand how to package and present their message. Messages can be packaged in different formats to ensure audiences stay engaged and not bored. They include designed PowerPoint with images, animations, and video clips. Messages can also be packaged into speeches.
Good presentation skills are acquired through experience, training and learning from others. They include posture, voice projection, articulation, and awareness of the audience. You must be aware of when your time is up when the audience is no longer engaged or is bored. Some of the best presentations are delivered in a short time, allowing the audience to engage, interact and ask questions.
COMMUNICATION SKILLS FOR A COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT
Just as communication skills are essential for leaders, they are also essential for communications departments. Having communicators with excellent communication skills means that leaders can focus on strategic issues as not have to hand-holding and micro-manage their teams.
There are numerous ways that communication skills can be brought into the communications department, through recruitment, experience, and training.
External recruitment is one of the ways that communication skills can be brought in. However, as the saying goes, “what you put in is what you get back”. Therefore, the job specification must be precise regarding the required communication skills. This will guide the shortlisting process and weed out candidates who do not have the right communication skills.
Communication skills are also acquired through experience. Therefore, the department needs to encourage working in teams, which promotes cross-collaboration and knowledge sharing. If this approach is to be successful, the department must do a communications skills assessment to identify skills shortages. Following this exercise, the deliberate pairing of team members must be done to ensure the transfer and sharing of the identified communication skills.
Communications training is another way of capacitating the department with appropriate communication skills. There are a variety of available training techniques, from one day to several days of training or more extended training modules on site at training institutions. There are face-to-face or post the Covid-19 pandemic; online training is no longer frowned upon.
The communications department must have an appropriate structure to ensure proper human resources capacity to deliver on the business communications strategy. According to best practice, the structure follows the communications strategy. But it is not always like this.
The communications structure must reflect all the roles or functions required to execute the strategy.
Standard Communications Jobs
Standard communications jobs that would be reflected within the structure include the following:
Communications Manager/head – Responsible for developing and managing the execution of the communications strategy and monitoring adherence to communications procedures and protocols. This is in addition to managing the department.
External Communications – This role is responsible for crafting and managing communication with external stakeholders, including customers.
Internal Communications – This role is responsible for crafting and managing communication with staff and other internal stakeholders.
Media Relations – This role is responsible for ensuring the flow of information between the organisation and the media as a stakeholder. It is a specialised communication skill not necessarily found in all communicators.
Events Management – Gone are the days when business events were given to PAs. Now businesses understand the importance of events in cementing relationships, launching products, and creating brand awareness. Hence, there would typically be an events management function within the communications structure.
Graphic Designer - Information packaging in various exciting ways is essential within the communications department. Business departments look to the communications department for graphic design skills or capacity. This role ensures that the information created is packaged to suit the many communications platforms available to the department.
Social Media - A dedicated social media function is essential in a communications department to keep up with current trends.