Leadership Communication Skills

4 Ways to Boss Up Your Leadership Communication Skills

This post about leadership communication skills was contributed by Summer Jelinek, a leadership keynote speaker, trainer, and author of the book Unlocking the Magic of Leadership – 5 Keys to Inspire Yourself, Empower Others and Drive Extraordinary Results

leadership communication skills

Let me set the scene for you.

I was engaged, excited to build my leadership communication skills, passionate, and some might say a little intense. I was a management intern working at the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World.

My manager brought me into his office one day to offer me some feedback.

While hearing the word “feedback” strikes fear in the hearts of many, I was excited to hear my boss’s feedback. I have always been a sucker for good feedback. 

He started by letting me know that he loved what I was doing. The guests were happy, and the cast members (Disney speak for employees) were happy. I was doing a great job. I smiled and said thank you. 

Then, he said there were some things he wanted me to work on.  Here comes the good part. I leaned in, eager to hear how I could improve. 

This is where things got vague and confusing.

That Leader Who Lacks Leadership Communication Skills

Leadership Communication Skills

“We need you to pull it back a little,” he said. Okay, I can do that. Wait…what does that mean?

His response was “We need you to be a little less you.” Welp — that was a waste of time.

By the time I left his office, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wasn’t performing at the level he expected, which was devastating for me. I had no clue how to fix it or to do better. Which was also devastating. 

Want to boss up your leadership communication skills? Let's talk! 

That was the day that I began searching for something more than the vague and personalized feedback that I was receiving. I wish my manager had access to a tool like the Radical Candor framework that helps leaders develop their leadership communication skills. 

As a consultant and leadership education specialist, I know the importance of communication in the workplace and that feedback is most effective when it’s kind, clear, specific, and sincere. And while Radical Candor is a vital leadership communication skill, it’s not the only one.

Here are some other leadership communication skills you need to guide teams to achieve results.

1. Communicate Clearly, Early, Often

 leadership communication skills

John C Maxwell is quoted as saying, “Disappointment is the gap that exists between expectation and reality.” 

Leaders experience this gap every day when communication isn’t clear, and when it fails to happen early and often. Fast and frequent feedback is the most meaningful.

A leader’s first responsibility in effective communication is to ensure they do not expect their employees to read their minds. We all have expectations. Some of us are naturally better at communicating those expectations. 

If you find that delegation comes easy to you and you can have conversations to course correct when expectations don’t line up with reality, you are ahead of the game.

For most of us, though, communicating expectations is a challenge. We have to overcome all of the obstacles we create in our minds as to why we shouldn’t share those expectations. 

These obstacles can sound like, “They already know what I am going to say,” “I don’t want to be bossy,” “I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing,” or a variation of these statements. 

Never assume that your employee has all of the information they need. Have conversations around expectations and say them in multiple ways and multiple formats. Emails, in person, newsletters, meetings — all of these are great times to communicate the same message. 

This is what Radical Candor author and co-founder Kim Scott calls performance development, and it’s one of the most important leadership communication skills you can nurture. 

We need to hear the same message multiple times before it can stick. Research shows that employees need to hear the same thing three to five times before taking action. 

So, if you find yourself thinking that you are tired of repeating yourself, you may just be doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.

2. Harness The Superpower of Silence

 
When my husband Miles and I were still dating, we got into a pretty big fight. What made it even worse was that I felt like he wasn’t taking it seriously. Here I was telling him how I was feeling and how hard it was and how mad I was and he would just look at me.

The next day at work, I was talking to my leader about it and how infuriating it was that he wouldn’t talk. She gave me a knowing smile and asked if I stopped talking long enough to allow him to talk. I immediately got defensive. And then I thought about it. And she was right.

Listening is one of the most important leadership communication skills. It’s also a skill many people have failed to develop.

That night, when I went home to talk to Miles after I said my piece, I stopped talking. And waited. For what felt like FOREVER! But then Miles started sharing how he was feeling and what he was thinking. Y’all, it was a miracle! That man had so much to say! I had not been silent long enough to let him gather his thoughts and share.

As leaders, we tend to do this as well. We share our thoughts, ask if there are any questions, wait the obligatory three seconds, and then wrap up whatever conversation we are having. This non-listening is not an effective leadership communication skill.

What if we slow down and allow our employees to think and process? What if we ask a question, and then sit in silence until our employee responds? An amazing thing might happen. They may respond. Silence is a superpower when it comes to leadership communication skills; creating a culture of listening on your team can lead to fixing things you as the boss never even knew were broken.

3. Get Curious About Communication

leadership communication skills

A key part of improving communication in the workplace is getting to know your employees well enough to understand how they like to communicate. Do they ask a lot of questions? Do they respond right away when you ask their opinion? Do they speak up a lot in meetings? 

If you answered no, your employee may be a processor and need more time to think through and respond. If you answered yes, your employee might not need the processing time.

If your employee is a processor, send them information beforehand so they can be prepared with their thoughts. If that is not an option, have a meeting to share your thoughts and give them specific points you would like them to respond to for a future meeting. 

When you are talking with your employees, use check-in language and then be quiet. An example of this would be “I would love to hear your thoughts about X, Y, X.” Give them the space to gather their thoughts and share. 

This acknowledgment of and respect for communication styles will only help to build trust with your direct reports and pave the way for stronger collaboration, innovation and team unity.

4. Focus on the Good Stuff, But Don’t Avoid the Hard Stuff

Constructive Feedback

When we consider communication, a lot of times we are focused on how we communicate good news or everyday news. We shy away from thinking about how we communicate (or don’t) hard news. 

Our employees are looking for us to set the guidelines for how to give bad news and handle difficult conversations. They will follow our lead. 

If we avoid the hard conversations, we will either let unwelcomed behaviors go and the team will have to pick up the brunt of those interactions or we will wait and get frustrated and resentful that the employee can’t read our mind and isn’t changing their behavior simply because we want them too. 

This frustration and resentment will cloud how we interact with this individual to the point that we might start to get a little snarky or begin looking for those negative behaviors. And then, one day, we will have had enough and might lash out at the employee in a disruptive way. 

The rest of your team will see this and assume that this type of behavior is OK so they will begin avoiding the conversation and waiting until it boils over in snide comments or tense interactions. 

 
To avoid this scenario, tackle the hard stuff in the beginning, not after it becomes impossible. When we can have conversations about the hard stuff when it hasn’t grown into something major, we can remove the emotion and have the conversation in a way that is most effective for our employees and ourselves.

Stay transparent when delivering difficult news. If the company is making a decision that will cause upset with your team and you aren’t allowed to share anything with them, say that. “I know this isn’t an ideal situation and you have a lot of questions. 

Unfortunately, I am not able to share more information at this time. Once I can, I assure you I will share it. What can I do to assist you during this process?”

Let them feel their feels. If you are delivering news that is shocking, upsetting, or regarding any change whatsoever, expect your team to have feelings about that and give them the space they need to process those feelings. 

 

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Gone are the days when we smile regardless of the news. We are asking our employees to bring their entire selves to work, and this means dealing with emotional reactions and the messy side as well as the productive side.

Timely communication is always better if you have already processed and dealt with it. If you are feeling a certain way about the information you must communicate, give yourself the time and space to process it as well. But don’t take too long because you want your team to hear from you versus through the company chatter channels.

Our employees need us to communicate better. They are demanding we communicate better. We can no longer muddle our way through time and time again and expect them to be OK with it.

They need us to understand that communication is not a one-time thing nor is it something that will look the same for every person.

Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, was quoted as saying “The biggest illusion of communication is that it has taken place.”

Saying something one time, three times, or even 30 times, won’t land with the person you are talking with unless it is said in a way that they can hear it. Communication is an ever-evolving process and as leaders, we can’t shy away from that.

Get Leadership Communication Tips On the Radical Candor Podcast >>

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Summer Jelinek is more than just a leadership expert. She’s a seasoned professional with a knack for transforming organizational chaos into a well-orchestrated symphony. As a leadership keynote speaker, trainer, and author of the book Unlocking the Magic of Leadership – 5 Keys to Inspire Yourself, Empower Others and Drive Extraordinary Results, she’s spent over two decades honing her leadership communication skills. These skills have been honed with companies such as Walt Disney World, the Disney Institute, H-E-B/Central Market, and even a ski resort.

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