Many experts dubbed Ronald Reagan The Great Communicator. Bill Clinton still engages audiences today. Steve Jobs gave a heartfelt and authentic commencement speech at Stanford. What is it that these leaders had/have that connect them with their audiences? Certainly, these well-known leaders must have had the formal media training and understood the need to focus and stay on message, use good grammar and use good delivery skills. All of this is important for someone to develop credibility as a leader. Yet, I believe these leaders had an additional skill set. Reagan, Clinton and Jobs are not known as just great talkers they are known as good communicators. They possessed the subtle ingredients that I am not certain we learn growing up or even receive from college courses. So, what is it that actually sets them apart from other leaders?
I believe it is the ability to engage the mind and the heart of those you are interacting with that makes you an exceptional communicator. Exceptional communicators certainly speak to their own ideas, yet they are others-focused as they connect with the feelings and desires of those they interact with.
Each one of us, no matter what our role is in an organization, spends a lot of our day interacting with others. Often times we have smooth interactions with others as we go about accomplishing the goals of the organization. I have also seen that a lot of the greatest challenges we find in organizational life is a result of poor communication. Well intended teams get off track because of miscommunication or avoiding communication all together. So, how can you strive to remedy this as a leader in your organization and become an exceptional communicator?
Practice the Basics:
- Learn to be a generous listener: Very simply put, talk less and practice active listening. The sign that you truly listened with empathy and understanding should leave you feeling tired. Not because you have talked excessively, but because you have exercised a single-minded focus on truly listening.
- Be astute in your observations: Learn to read the values, attitudes, moods and non-verbal messages of those you are interacting with. People give you lots of cues by what they are saying with their body-language.
- Flex your style to the environment based on your observations: Are you talking too much? Are you tracking with what the other person is experiencing as a result of our communication? If you are a talker, you may need to take a step back and listen more. If you are introverted, you may need to verbalize some questions that demonstrate a sincere interest in what the other person is saying.
- Stay open: Seek out different opinions that may broaden your perspective. Are you trying to drive your own agenda or are you sincerely open to others’ perspectives even if you do not agree with them?
- Check your ego: Good communicators demonstrate a genuine authenticity and transparency that is not present with those who choose to communicate behind the masks of a fragile ego. Take off your mask.
- Focus on what you leave in the wake of your interactions: Focus on contributing to the goals and desires of those you are interacting with. Have they been heard? Have you left them inspired? Have you left more than you have taken?
Does this sound like a tall order? I have seen individuals at all levels within an organization be intentional about practicing the basics and changing the nature of their relationships by building trust with those they interact with. I have seen teams get back on track by focusing on these ingredients. The foundational skills can be taught and “caught” through training and development and then modeling the way for others.
The Leadership Challenge and Action: Pick one of 6 basic practices and be intentional about practicing it in your one-on-one conversations or a team meeting. Practice this behavior for at least 25 days and see what happens!
You may not be a former President of the United States, or the CEO of a 156-billion dollar company, but you are an influencer, no matter what your position is. You may not get all of this right all of the time…I know I don’t. But, when our efforts are always in the context of learning and striving to get it right, we are becoming better version of ourselves. That is leadership.
May you change your workplace culture one conversation at a time.