Leading with words, actions and inspiration: Communication as a critical function of leadership

5 November 2020



Communication and leadership are arguably symbiotic – you cannot be a good at one without the other.  Great communicators and great leaders have many things in common, but perhaps the most important commonality is their shared notion of authenticity.

For many leaders, 2020 has been the year they finally grasped just how important communication is. In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, effective communication is so critical and great leaders do it so well that their people follow. Good communicators will always weather a storm better.

I have written previously about a leadership survey I conducted of employees across South Africa, the U.K, Canada, U.S.A and Australia. I asked a simple question – what qualities do you think make a great leader? Communication was the number one quality ranked by those we surveyed.

I found this really interesting as a lack of communication is one of the most common complaints I’ve heard from employees regarding ineffective leaders.  When done right, effective communication gives people clarity. They understand what is expected of them, as well as the goal or outcome to be achieved and the role they play in achieving it.   But it can also go so horribly wrong.

As a leader, you may have a clear vision of what you’re trying to accomplish, but if you can’t communicate that to your team or colleagues, it will be almost impossible to achieve. By developing the ability to clearly describe what you want done and relate it to your team, you will unite everyone’s efforts…and your team needs to be aligned and on-board with your strategic objectives and goals to be successful.

What makes a good communicator?

Good communicators can listen, delegate tasks clearly, manage meeting to maximise productivity and compliment or acknowledge others. The best communicators are also not afraid to have a difficult conversation or open the floor for discussion and different opinions. What many don’t often realise though, is that the best communicators utilise both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Consider developing your communication skills as a three-step approach. The first step is to simply communicate through words; a great starting point to share information. The second step is to master communicating both through words and actions. When you use compelling words along with consistent action, you win influence. To reach the peak of effective communication, you learn to take this ability to communicate through your words and actions and enhance it by communicating through the words and actions of other people.

What this means is that the people you have influenced through the first two levels begin to speak your words, live out your values and share your view. They trust your authenticity wholeheartedly so, in turn, they influence others and this is where real change can occur.

How to master better communication skills

  • Forget the corporate speak – the best communicators are sincere and radiate authenticity. What they speak comes from the heart and is inherently trustworthy.
  • Be visible – visibility is a form of communication and great communicators make themselves present and available in meetings, and they don’t hide behind email.
  • Listen first – listening is a really powerful skill and the best communicators use it wisely. When you listen, you gain a clear understanding of perspectives in the room, gather knowledge, and invite shared respect and openness. As a general rule, aim to spend 80% of your meetings listening and 20% talking.

As I reflect on my many years in the corporate world, some of our bravest ventures or most difficult decisions have been swayed by a compelling story. Storytelling is one of the most wonderful ways to create trust, capture hearts and minds and bare your vulnerability. When you tell a good story, you’re letting people in and giving life to a vision, goal or objective – and you can bet people will be able to share the story better than the vision statement or strategy overview.

Next time you need to bring people on board with your vision or company direction, ask yourself…why am I really doing this? Because I would confidently bet you have a story to share that gives context and understanding to some of the big questions people in the room are thinking. Try it, what have you got to lose?