IF YOU take a look at the lives of great leaders in any field, including sports, politics, business or even the military, you will find that they were or are good communicators.

To achieve extraordinary success in leadership, you not only need a clear vision regarding your goals and objectives, you must also know how to communicate these objectives to your subordinates.

In order to achieve your success at the highest levels, you must learn the art of communication, because when your team knows about your goals, it becomes easier for them to work, and you can motivate your team through effective communication channels.

Hence, 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.

Effective communication practices

Think about it… how do the best leaders motivate and inspire their people?

Four elements that are necessary for strategic conversations are:

•  An open communication climate;

•  Active listening;

•  Discernment; and

•  Dialogue.

Open communication is essential for building trust, and it paves the way for more opportunities to communicate with followers, thus enabling the organisation to gain the benefits of all employees’ minds.

However, leaders must be active listeners and learn to discern the hidden undercurrents that have yet to emerge. 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.

Active listening in a group leads to dialogue, through which people discover common ground and together create a shared meaning that enables them to understand each other and share a view of the world.

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:

•  Establish credibility;

•  Build goals on common ground;

•  Make your position compelling; and

•  Connect with others on an emotional level.

Leaders use rich communication channels, communicate through stories and metaphors, and rely on informal as well as formal communication. Electronic channels can be 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 they are influenced and motivated to perform actions that further common goals and lead towards desired outcomes.

“Strategic conversation” is communication that takes place across boundaries and hierarchical levels about the group or organisation’s vision, critical strategic themes and values that can help achieve desired outcomes.

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.

Inspiring someone without effective communication is almost impossible. You have to keep in mind that all good organisations achieve their goals through a well-established system of effective communication to all levels of staff.

As former president and CEO of National Semiconductor Corp Gilbert Amelio says: “Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.”

A vital tool for success

To 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 accepting sincere 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 Professor Sattar Bawany, chief executive officer of the Centre for Executive Education (CEE Global). CEE Global offers executive development solutions, including executive coaching and leadership development programmes that help professionals develop skills and knowledge for success in their industries. For more information, visit www.cee-global.com or e-mail enquiry@cee-global.com