How to Effectively Communicate as a Leader
First and foremost, a leader has to keep the vision in the minds of his or her followers in every conversation, whether in a spoken or unspoken manner. When a leader is speaking as a leader, and not as a friend or confidante, he or she needs to remind people in a simple and straightforward manner and without a lot of additional explanation why they are being asked to turn the vision into reality.
In his book, Leadership IQ: A Personal Development Process Based on a Scientific Study of a New Generation of Leaders (John Wiley and Sons, Inc.), Emmett C. Murphy says that the leaders he has researched have mastered the art of conversation.
As we eavesdropped on their conversations with the stakeholders in their organizations — a high-tech marketing manager talking with a recently hired sales associate, a cardiac care nurse conversing with her supervisor, a team of municipal council members discussing economic development with local businesspeople — we saw that they had followed well-crafted scripts in all their communications.
Murphy doesn’t mean literal scripts. Instead, he means that the structure to communication between leaders and followers tends to remain the same even when the circumstances or situation changes.
In other words, a leader has to find a kind of shorthand to remind the group of the goal. Often, such shorthand appears in our everyday lives as slogans. The problem with slogans is that they have been overused by advertising, so people tend to distrust them. Consumers may want to be sold on something, but they want to know the difference between a lofty goal and an impetus to purchase.
The responsibility of leadership is to communicate the vision so clearly that no room is left for doubt among those who must execute it.
Leaders must not only explain, but they must also motivate their followers. In ancient Greece, when Aeschines finished speaking, people said, “He spoke well.” But after Demosthenes spoke to them, they cried, “Let us march (into battle against Philip of Macedon’s army)!” To inspire people enthusiastically to do what is necessary to ensure success, a business leader must articulate the very reasons the people have gathered to form an enterprise. A community leader must do the same thing, and you — no matter what kind of role you play — certainly need to motivate people in your everyday life.
How do you learn to speak to motivate? It all starts with our primary building blocks: eliciting the cooperation of others, listening well, and placing others above yourself.
Being a leader: Speaking begins with listening
A good speaker almost invariably is someone who can listen to or read the mood or tenor of an audience, even when the audience is not communicating verbally. Good speakers can sense nervousness, restlessness, or hostility among a group, and they learn to use the mood of the crowd to their own advantage.
Listening also involves asking questions and paying attention to the answers. If the first characteristic of leadership is high intelligence, that intelligence must be applied. A leader goes through a relentless search for the truth when crafting a vision or goals for the group. That search is a combination of asking questions, listening to the answers, and then processing the information.
Lead by eliciting the cooperation of others
Eliciting the cooperation of others is the process of offering something for something. As a song from the 1960s says, “Nothing from nothing leaves nothing. You gotta have something if you want to be with me.” Implicit in what a leader does is trading a goal or vision focused on the future for struggle and hard work in the present. The goal has to be real and attainable, and it must fit the needs of the people being led.
For example, when a company is losing money and the rest of its industry is growing by 15 percent a year, it does no good for a CEO to set 20 percent growth as next year’s goal. First, the executive has to find out why the company is losing money while its competitors are profiting — that’s listening. Then the chief has to set an attainable goal, which may be stopping the hemorrhaging of cash. Then and only then can the company think about moving forward, which becomes a next goal. Even then, the goal cannot be outlandish; it needs to be attainable.
How does a speaker put the needs of others above his or her own? By speaking to the concerns and needs of the person you are talking to rather than your own. Early on, you have to acknowledge how hard a person is working toward a shared goal or vision, not talk about your own difficulty in leading. You must focus on the group’s sacrifices and the importance of the mission, and you have to discover how to refrain from finding fault even while you are looking for the source of the roadblocks to completing the mission.
This method sounds contradictory, but it isn’t. Blaming people is distracting; finding the fault, correcting it, and moving on is not.