Success is 15 percent due to professional knowledge and 85 percent due to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.”
Dale Carnegie said this 78 years ago, yet all of us know what research reveals: That many leaders or aspiring leaders miss the mark on communicating ideas that generate success for themselves and their teams.
One of the biggest complaints that executives have about their professionals – individually and in teams – is poor communication skills. They want their leaders to write, speak, and lead with more clarity, influence, and forward momentum.
Ironically, the number one complaint that professionals have against their senior leadership is also poor communication skills. They say it’s unclear, inconsistent, and that managers or board members don’t listen.
Anyone can be an effective communicator. Good communicators aren’t born, they work at it. Highly effective communicators move ahead faster and generate better results.
Communication is leadership. If you’re intentional about constantly improving, you will find that you and your team will achieve goals more effectively – and will go further, faster.
From my college days working at UCLA’s Placement and Career Planning Center, to launching several businesses, including a global, public company with 1,100 employees, and serving on several boards, I’ve observed seven habits that that leaders can develop for highly effective communications at every level.
These seven communication skills below will accelerate your success: Effective communicators:
1. Recognize & seize opportunities
They do this in every type of communication. There’s no such thing as “routine” communication. From emails to weekly meetings, to presentations or keynote speeches – whether in-person, online, or by phone they find opportunities to add value, clarity, feedback, or inspiration. They truly understand the power of words at work.
2. Know objectives
Whenever they communicate, they think in advance about what they want to accomplish with the words they speak.
3. Reflect on their communication strengths and weaknesses
They don’t take themselves too seriously; yet they want to grow, so they pay attention. There are obvious datapoints on how effective they are – whether it’s a disconnect between the quantifiable goals they’ve set and what their team has achieved, or from feedback by others.
4. Find resources to improve their skills
5. Take an interest in people
They don’t want to just hear themselves talk. They want the benefit of other points of view. They encourage their teams to ask questions and share feedback.
They also look you in the eye when they listen – making eye contact is a powerful, yet an overlooked way to connect. Eye contact is also a primary way to assess whether you are getting through and guaging the reaction of your listeners. Real conversations that connect and move ideas and projects forward happen with eye contact.
6. Prepare to influence and lead at every meeting
Effective communicators do this whether they are leading the meeting or not. Research shows that we spend up to 40% of our work time in meetings! Meetings are the prime opportunity to add value and stand out, if you know how. Because we spend so much time in meetings, extra advice is required:
If you have been invited to a meeting, you are supposed to contribute constructively. Give more than is asked of you, be prepared and speak up.
According to Jo Miller, “Speaking up and contributing in meetings can be your best opportunity to shift others’ perception of you: from tactician to strategist, from task achiever to change-agent, and from doer to leader.”
On a recent Dose of Leadership Podcast episode, leadership expert Dr. Mindy Hall, author of Leading with Intention, shared a simple, yet powerful way to make every meeting better with a ‘Two Plus Two’ approach:
“Show up with two questions you want to ask and two things you want to contribute. Putting these together requires considering who will be there, the context, and the power dynamics. Know your objective in attending the meeting, and what the meeting convener hopes to achieve. Preparing two questions activates a learning mind-set, whereas articulating two contributions ensures that you are prepared to add value.” – E.J McNulty, Strategy + Business
7. Ask a lot of questions
Asking questions helps to understand the assumptions and expectations of customers and teammates. Whether you address an individual or team, remember that people resent being talked to. They’d rather be talked with.
Ask questions such as:
- Did you mean________
- Are we agreed on______
- Should we table this for now?
- Can we revisit this later?
- Do you need my help?
- Are you concerned?
Ok, one more:
8. They don’t avoid difficult conversations.
Instead, they prepare by looking at issues from another’s point of view, they ask questions, and they build goodwill from the outset by setting a productive tone.
Finally, effective communicators give a recap after key conversations. Whether the conversations are in meetings, by phone, email, etc., it’s important to ensure that everyone is aligned with what’s agreed upon. Effective communicators know the problem named is the problem solved – They identify and confront real obstacles.
And, above all else, they liberally use the words please and thank you!
I hope you have found these tips valuable in your personal and professional development. Just remember:
Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.