by Arinze Obiezue, ALU ‘15
Leaders tend to be many things. From elected politicians to celebrated activists or just everyday people who wield some form of influence. Some of these leaders have institutional authority, while others do not. Some of them self-identify as leaders while others are ascribed the label by either those they lead or those who are inspired by them. While their diverse backgrounds makes each leader unique, there is a skill that binds them together as a shared requirement.
“The art of communication is the language of leadership” — James Humes
Leaders are known to be individuals who influence and motivate others to work towards achieving a common goal. Such an ability to exert influence and inspire motivation requires great communication skills. Here are a few reasons why communication is a necessary skill for leaders.
Communication Skills Help Leaders Craft and Sell Their Vision
It begins with the articulation of a vision. Crafting a persuasive vision requires leaders to apply empathy; a skill that is integral to effective communication. This allows them to identify what will resonate the most with people, inspire them, and keep them going when things get tough. Furthermore, it takes first-rate communication skills to pitch a vision so persuasively that others internalise it and take it as their own. Only too few leaders make it to this point.
Leaders who Communicate Effectively Are Able to Build Trust
Leaders who aren’t trusted tend to not last long. This is because trust can’t exist in the absence of transparency, and transparency can’t exist in the absence of frequent and honest communication. Leaders who are trusted by their followers are skilled at communicating appropriately to their different stakeholders in order to build trust. By maintaining such transparency in communication, they also come across as authentic. Nobody wants to follow anyone they believe to be a phony or in any way duplicitous. In building trust, leaders understand that communication, however, is a two-way street. Listening is also a form of communication which allows them to create a space for others to share their thoughts, concerns and worries. When people feel like they’re being listened to, it becomes easier for them to trust the leaders and remain loyal to their vision.
Leaders Inspire Others By Communicating Through Action
Communication is not just about words. Actions communicate to people who we are, what we are about, and what we believe in much more effectively than our words ever could. This is where the saying “Lead by example” finds its meaning. In addition to this, not every leader can inspire action through words. Some achieve that through their actions. Here’s a scene from a series I love — Silicon Valley — which best captures this.
In this scene, Richard Hendricks (the CEO of Pied Piper, and a socially awkward entrepreneur who struggles with public speaking) had just lost all his employees after botching what was supposed to be an inspirational speech to unite his new employees. They didn’t buy into his vision because he didn’t know how to communicate it.
They only returned after his actions did the communicating instead of his words. This was when Richard spent an entire night coding parts of the Pied Piper’s core product which would have taken the entire team of over 30 engineers several days to build. He did almost all of it in one night albeit collapsing the next morning. They were in awe of him.
He was an engineer, and his followers were engineers. He wasn’t able to inspire his followers until he spoke to them in a language they understood and which was more suitable for him. He communicated to them that he believed in the vision of the company so much that even if they all left, he was still going pursue it even if he had to risk his health. He inspired action by communication through action, not words.
Leading Through Change Requires Communicating Leaders
Trust and loyalty undergo the most severe test during times of change and uncertainty. During these times, effective communication helps leaders assuage emotional setbacks while maintaining order in spite of chaos. To be able to communicate effectively, leaders need to be emotionally attuned to the needs and temperaments of their followers. This requires a degree of empathy which only a long period of trust and loyalty between the leader and the followers can provide.
Want to learn more? Check out this paper by Anchal Luthra and Dr. Richa Dahiya on the interdependence that exists between leadership and communication. It’s a real eye-opener.