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A Practical Journey towards Leadership Development- The Importance of Communication



This is the second article in a series outlining an approach to building leadership capability.


Everywhere we look we see leadership articles that stress the importance of communication in becoming a great leader. In fact, 3 of 4 employees see communication as the most important leadership attribute. When we think of it, most leaders spend the majority of their time in some form of personal interaction, either one on one or within a group setting. When we think of leadership, logic tells us that leaders need to be adept at inspiring action through setting vision, aligning expectations and transferring and transforming ideas. The way they do it is through communication with their constituents.


The Economist Intelligence Unit found that inadequate/poor communication can lead to low morale, missed performance goals and failure to complete projects. The AMA in a survey found that just 9% of staff felt that they had a clear understanding what was going on in their organization. Unbelievable!


First let’s think about what great leadership communication could look like. What should we strive to do? SMARP, a leading employee communications & advocacy platform describes 10 main goals of leadership communication:

  • Align employees with company’s culture

  • Align employees with the company’s strategic goals

  • Build trust in the workplace

  • Keep employees engaged

  • Encourage two-way conversations

  • Boost employee collaboration

  • Keep employees informed

  • Communicate changes effectively

  • Prevent internal miscommunications

  • Make important information available

I believe that these goals and objectives are excellent, the trouble is many of us have no idea how to achieve them. As a starting point, let’s look at 5 mistakes that get in the way of excellent communication.


1. The first mistake is that one communication style does not fit all. The inability to adapt our communication style to others continually blocks successful communication. The key to getting along, to gaining endorsement from others, is in understanding and appreciating the different behavioural wiring of those around us. The DISC language is a tool we can use to classify people according to their unique blend of the four styles, thereby giving us valuable insights into how best to connect with them. The key is to consciously adapt our style to ensure a better connection. The DISC model is universal in that it applies to all people everywhere. It is neutral to the extent that there is no one style or combination of styles that is inherently “better” than any other. All styles and combinations of styles have strengths and value. Any “weaknesses” one might observe simply come from strengths that are over-extended or stretched too far – usually under stress or tension, (for example one who is normally competitive might, under stress, become aggressive, etc.).


2. The second major impediment to successful communication is the inability to apply active listening skills to any conversation. Cheesebro, O’Connor, and Rios write in Communication Skills “People are fired, customers are lost, and working relationships are strained because of ineffective listening. Not just in the workplace, friendships suffer, marriages fail, and families grow apart when individuals fail to listen with genuine concern.” A leadership conversation should not be a monologue it should be in fact be a two-way conversation. Leadership needs to incorporate listening, yet listening is a skill that is not often taught in leadership studies nor is a subject in leadership books. It appears to be assumed, rather than studied. Five Steps to Effective Listening:

  • Face the speaker and maintain eye contact, be attentive yet relaxed

  • Keep an open mind.

  • Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying.

  • Don't interrupt and don't impose your "ideas/solutions."

  • Wait for the speaker to pause to ask clarifying questions.

3. The third impediment to leadership communication is not allocating enough time to have a thoughtful discussion. Everyone today feels pressed for time. We as leaders often have a meeting to get to or a phone call to make and we often tend to rush our conversations.

Consequently, our people feel like they have not been “listened to” and have not had an opportunity to raise questions or express thoughts or opinions. Take the time to have a real conversation.


4. Often our conversations have little or no structure. We have not thought through what we want to accomplish or how we intend to achieve our goals. We “wing” it, and we wonder why we have communication challenges. Take the time to think through your communication with others, it is an excellent investment and will actually save time in the long run.


5. Did I mention listening?

Leadership communication has changed significantly in the past few years, and it is now more important than ever before. However, leaders need to be ready to deal with these changes and adjust their own personal communication strategies and habits.


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