Art of communication is the language of leadership

Kate Cooper
Head of Research, Policy and Standards
Institute of Leadership and Management
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Communication jitters are affecting 94% of UK company directors, according to a new report conducted by RADA in Business.

In the 1,000 workplaces surveyed, 39% of senior directors also cited networking with new business prospects and pitching as scenarios in which they feel most unsure about their performance. And a further 31% said they were nervous of their ideas being shot down or talked over.

At the Institute of Leadership & Management, we believe effective communication is a leadership essential – especially when it comes to informing colleagues about key initiatives or strategic changes that might affect them.

Formal and informal communication are essential to any sort of collaborative working. Collaboration is one of the Institute’s five dimensions of leadership – along with Authenticity, Achievement, Ownership and Vision.

A collaborative manager knows how to communicate with their teams to share and exchange information by speaking, writing or using technology. It's not just what’s said that counts. Whether  you’re communicating formal information about key initiatives at your organisation or providing one-to-one feedback to a member of your team, non-verbal communication is at least as important, it augments the message, and can even contradict what is actually being said. 

The power of communication

Good communication is the lynchpin in effective negotiating, influencing, making presentations, giving speeches and offering constructive feedback. And it’s vital for personal, team, departmental and organisational success.

Communication breakdown is frequently cited as the reason for all sorts of failure so ensuring the best possible channels are set up and used is a wise step in avoiding any misunderstandings. 

In a recent article on Workplaceinsight.net, Claire Dale, Tutor at RADA in Business said, “Those in senior or leadership positions can benefit from making small but powerful shifts in their behaviour before facing a situation that triggers communication anxiety.”

According to Claire, this can include making changes in body language and stance or controlling breath to create greater vocal power. RADA in Business offers the unique skills, assets and experience of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to train and inspire individual, institutional and corporate clients to become better communicators.

“Flexibility is also key,” adds Claire. “Being able to flex your working style to different audiences and situations is an effective tool. It helps to build confidence in the given situation, increasing impact and influence in the workplace.”

If you are one of the many who experience communication anxiety from time-to-time, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you recognise and acknowledge your anxiety, you know by paying attention and taking steps to improve your communication skills, you are also developing your leadership capability. 

Generational shift

I do think we will see a generational shift on the issue of communication anxiety some day. One of the positive aspects of young people’s preoccupation with social networking – and the feedback they receive on their social media posts – is that they may join the workforce with a much less self-conscious attitude to how they communicate and present themselves.

But for older generations who have been longer established in the world of work, I think the most tangible source of communication anxiety stems from a fear or dislike of being judged. This is perhaps why some leaders find it more comfortable not to be open and transparent, to make decisions behind closed doors and to communicate information as little as possible. If you don’t explain what you’re doing, you can’t be held to account.

Listening skills

It’s also important to remember that communication is a two-way street. Good leadership means knowing how to listen. And actively listening is a key ingredient to effective two-way communication.

A recent article in Forbes,  caimed the value of leadership empathy will be sky-high in 2018. In the opinion of the 14 members of the Forbes Coaches Council interviewed for the article, we will see and even greater emphasis on listening, relating and coaching to drive effective leadership this year.

Listening can help managers build trust, respect and influence with their teams. Active listening involves not only absorbing verbal information – it’s also about noticing and resonding to other behaviours such as body language and tone of voice. Truly effective listening means looking out for hidden messages, confirming understanding and responding to verbal and non-verbal signals. 

At the Institute, we believe good leadership is intrinsically linked to engaging in effective two-way communication. And, on that note, I do agree with US presidential speechwriter James Humes: “the art of communication is the language of leadership.”

About Kate Cooper

About Kate Cooper

Prior to joining The Institute of Leadership & Management Kate Cooper worked in the university sector. She has appeared on, amongst others, BBC Television, BBC Radio 4 and has a regular column in Dialogue magazine. She is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from the Institute’s research agenda. 

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07th Feb 2018 09:49

A great read. And I agree about the value of leadership empathy.

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