Effective communication is an essential element of leadership.

Leaders are communication champions who inspire and unite people around a common sense of purpose and identity.

They lead strategic conversations that get people talking across boundaries about the vision, key strategic themes and the values that can help the group or organisation achieve desired outcomes.

Leader communication is purpose-directed, and an important element is persuading others to act in ways that achieve goals and accomplish vision.

Four steps for practising the art of persuasion are to:

•   establish credibility;

•   build goals on common ground;

•   make your position compelling; and

•   connect with others on an emotional level.

Leaders use communicate through stories and metaphors and rely on informal as well as formal communication.

Electronic channels can be very advantageous if used appropriately, but their use increases the potential for communication errors, and these channels are not very effective for complex or sensitive messages. 

 Leading strategic conversations

Leadership means communicating with others so that they are influenced and motivated to perform actions that further common goals and achieve desired outcomes.

Strategic conversation is communication that takes place across boundaries and hierarchical levels about the group’s or organisation’s vision, critical strategic themes and values.

Leaders facilitate strategic conversations by:

•   Actively listening to others to understand their attitudes and values, needs, personal goals and desires;

•   Setting the agenda for conversation by underscoring the key strategic themes linked to organisational success; and

•   Selecting the right communication channels and facilitating dialogue.

Four key components necessary for strategic conversations are:

1 Open communication

Open communication means sharing information throughout the company, especially across functional and hierarchical levels.

This runs counter to the traditional flow of selective information downwards from supervisors to subordinates.

People need a clear direction and an understanding of how they can contribute.

Open communication is essential for building trust.

It paves the way for more opportunities to communicate with followers, thus enabling the organisation to gain the benefits of all employees’ minds. 


2 Active listening

Listening well is an essential component of good leadership.

A leader can become a more effective listener by learning the skills of active listening. Working relationships become more solid based on trust, respect and honesty.

Active listening is not an optional component of leadership. It is not a nicety to be used to make others feel good.

It is, in fact, a critical component of the tasks facing today’s leaders.

It is through listening and discernment, both with followers and customers, that leaders identify strategic issues and build productive relationships that help the organisation succeed.


3 Discernment

One of the most rewarding kinds of listening involves discernment.

Discernment involves detecting the unarticulated messages and undercurrents hidden below the surface of spoken interaction, complaints, behaviour and actions.

A discerning leader pays attention to patterns and relationships underlying the organisation and those it serves.

4 Dialogue  

Dialogue occurs when active listening and attention to unspoken undercurrents spread throughout the organisation.

Dialogue is active sharing and listening in which people explore common ground and grow to understand one another and share a world view.

A dialogue requires that participants suspend their attachments to a particular point of view so that a deeper level of listening, synthesis and meaning can emerge.

A leader’s primary tool

As a change leader, communication is the primary and most important tool. 

There is no substitute for good judgment, and change leaders need to be reflective and thoughtful about the ways they communicate.

There is also no substitute for active listening and receiving feedback from staff and colleagues about how the leader communicates.

A leader may make communication mistakes, but the mark of an effective change leader is that these mistakes are quickly identified through feedback and discussion, and corrective action is taken.  

Article by Prof Sattar Bawany, CEO of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE) and strategic advisor of IPMA. CEE offers executive coaching and leadership development programmes that help professionals develop the skills and knowledge to embrace change and catalyse success in their industries. For details, visit www.ipma.com.sg/cee.php or e-mail cee.singapore@ipma.com.sg