The Leader as Communicator

Leaders are excellent communicators. The ability to communicate is a core quality of leadership. That's because 85 percent of your success as a leader is determined by your ability to communicate effectively with others. After all, being a leader is about dealing with others — their success is your success. If you cannot communicate, you cannot be a leader.

Communication is a skill that can be learned. The first step is to understand the five goals that you want to accomplish through your communication:

1. You want people to like and respect you. Leadership is not about making friends, but if you are liked and respected, people will be more willing to listen to you. They will want to hear what you have to say.

2. You want people to recognize your value and importance. The objective, again, is to give people a reason to listen to you.

3. You want to be able to persuade others to accept your view. Leadership today is more about persuasion than commanding. You have to be able to persuade others to see your point of view and agree with your position.

4. You want to get people to change their minds and to cooperate with you. You cannot be a successful leader if you have people who are against you or who refuse to change their previous positions and opinions. Leaders are often change agents, and the key to change is effective communication.

5. You want to be more influential overall in your relationships. Leadership is about power and influence, and power and influence is best achieved through effective communication.

Be Clear

Leaders articulate their views, their strategies, and their visions with clarity. Wherever you find an organization that's drifting, you find a fuzzy understanding of the reason behind the organization. In a successful organization, employees at all levels know with crystal clarity what it is they are trying to accomplish, where they are going, and what their future is. They know, with clarity, what their strengths and weaknesses are.

If you want to be a great leader, learn how to express your views, ideas, and goals clearly to other people. And make sure that those people who are expected to help know what they are expected to contribute.

Set Expectations

The number one complaint of employees in the workplace today is not knowing what is expected of them It is amazing how many people are on payrolls, expected to contribute to the achievement of the goals of the organization, but are unsure about what they should be doing. People who don't clearly understand what they're supposed to be doing become negative and cynical, engage in politics, and become demotivated and incapable of making their maximum contribution to the organization.

In addition to the “what,” leaders also communicate the reasons “why.” As much as anything else, leaders make sure people know why they are doing what they are doing. Every one of us in today's workforce needs to know why we are doing a job. It's not enough for us to be told that this job or task is what you are going to do; we want to know the reasons. We want to know how the work affects us. We want to know how it affects our customers and other people. Nietzsche wrote, “A man can bear any what if he has a big enough why”

Through the years, I have developed a habit of never asking anyone to write or type a letter for me without explaining to the person why. I have found that the more you tell people why, the more motivated, committed, loyal, dedicated, and involved they are in their work. The less they know about the why, the more indifferent they become.

You can release potential in others just by telling them why. It doesn't even have to be a good reason, but they just have to have one.

Always Be Visible

The best way to communicate with others is face-to-face. In person. If you look at the great generals and other great leaders, you will find that they are always in the field. Very seldom do you find them hiding behind desks. As a matter of fact, the further up you go on the managerial ladder, the more time the individual leader spends in the field actually talking with people.

In fact, the expression MBWA, which is management by wandering around, means to get out of the office, walk around, and talk to people about what they're doing. Be visible and approachable so that people will come to you and tell you their problems and what's going on in their departments. You will get more immediate and timely information by getting out among your staff and your customers than you could by spending hours, days, or even weeks in your office. The very best leaders are out of the office walking around, remaining visible and approachable and available to others about 50 percent of the time.

Visibility is especially important in communicating with and learning from customers. Leaders should spend a minimum of 25 percent of their time with customers — not sitting behind a desk or looking at numbers and statistics, but actually going out into the field and taking care of customers.

Not that long ago VCRs were very popular. There is a story of a gentleman who was buying a VCR in a computer and electronics store in Santa Clara and an old Japanese man who served him across the counter. His English was quite poor. As the customer was leaving the store with his purchase, a friend of his pulled him aside and said, “Do you know who that was?” “No,” the man replied. “That is Akio Morita, the head of Sony Corporation.” Morita was traveling in the United States, visiting stores, and actually selling products to get feedback from the customers.

Always Be Selling

One final point about communication: Leaders are excellent low-pressure salespeople. Leaders are always selling. They are selling people on the organization, on the vision, on the goals, and on the reasons. They are selling people on working longer, harder hours, making more valuable contributions, coming on board, and taking greater responsibility. All great leaders can sell.

In addition to being able to sell, leaders can negotiate, and they can compromise. They have the capacity to find win-win solutions. It is a key part of leadership to take people with different points of view, different needs, and different attitudes, and harmonize those points of view so that they all work together in cooperation to achieve the goals of the organization.

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