The public relies on business leaders for vision, guidance, inspiration and, most of all, clear communication. According to Forbes contributor Steve Olenski, there are five communications skills helping good leaders become great leaders. These skills include the ability to listen carefully (a personal favorite of mine), interpret body language, have strong video presentation skills, and the practice of clear verbal and written communication.
However, today’s world of new media and changing consumer behavior, along with the demanding expectations of a highly engaged public, has changed the way leaders are required to communicate. Executives are feeling pressure not only to practice the tried and true communication skills of the past, but also to learn the skills necessary to handle myriad situations, in good times and in bad.
In an age of social conversations and engagement, here is a short list of must have communication skills. If today’s executives want to truly lead and inspire the people around them, then they must take the best of traditional communication forward and discover new skills to move out of their communication comfort zones.
1. Relationship Building Through New Media. A study published by mobile employee communications company, APPrise Mobile, stated 23% of Americans who work at companies do not know their CEO's names and could not pick them out of a lineup. This exposes new communication challenges and clear evidence that the workplace has changed. Employees who used to report to work every day, with a designated desk and workspace, may now be “hoteling” at their jobs or working remotely, 100% of the time. However, the change in work environment affects the interaction between employees and company leaders.
As a result, executives not only need to be seen and heard more often, but they also must develop relationships through new channels within the organization. Executives will find video webcasting, virtual town hall meetings, forums and blogs becoming even more important channels to reach their employees. Leaders must invest in communication that increases face-time and helps build relationships, regardless of whether employees are in the office or virtually placed throughout the world.
2. Empathetic Listening: There are three different forms of listening. You can listen to learn. You can also listen to evaluate and analyze a situation. And you can listen for empathy. It is imperative for business leaders to feel and understand the emotions shared by their stakeholders. When leaders combine all three forms of listening they have a powerful formula to move forward with purposeful and helpful action.
3. Diverse and Inclusive Communication: Today’s leaders must think and act in terms of diversity and inclusion. The work environment is a melting pot with multicultural, economic, educational, and generational differences. If leaders communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion frequently, then the rest of the organization will follow suit and it will become an integral part of the organization’s vision.
4. Transparency, Honesty and Trust: The need for transparency and honesty is even more crucial for businesses today. Because of social media, businesses are operating in a fishbowl environment. Even if your office windows are not made of glass, the public can see what you are doing at all times. Social media opens the company doors to a plethora of channels. Their employees or an interested public can share what is happening in an instant, whether you want the communication shared or not. For executives, the ability to be transparent and honest helps to maintain the bank of public trust, especially during those troubled times when the organization needs a little more support.
5. Humility in Engagement: Where is the CEO humility? On a recent episode of Shel Holtz’s FIR podcast, a panel discussed CEO hubris. In the news, recent brand missteps led to self-inflicting wounds and their leaders not communicating heartfelt apologies, when they were clearly in order. Was it pride or a heightened sense of self-confidence? At all times, executives must check their egos at the door and make sure their senior communicators do the same. When an issue or crisis arises, humility wins and hubris should be nowhere in sight.
6. Sharing Passion Power: Passionate leaders motivate and inspire others to be a part of a vision that’s bigger than the originator, the team and the company itself. People are more likely to believe, invest and follow leaders who communicate with great passion. The media landscape is cluttered with thousands of messages, and the highly digitized person has an 8-second attention span (one second less than a goldfish). If leaders cannot communicate their own intense feelings about their organizations and workplace, then why would anyone else pay attention, let alone share in those same passionate feelings?
As a leader, there will always be skills to learn. Whether you are new to the C-Suite or have been there for years, the ability to push beyond your comfort zone leads to better communication in an evolving and often challenging landscape.
Deirdre Breakenridge is CEO of Pure Performance Communications. She is an international speaker, podcaster, Lynda.com video author and an adjunct professor and online instructor at UMass Amherst and Rutgers University. Her most recent book published by FT Press is Social Media and Public Relations: Eight New Practices for the PR Professional.
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