10 vital leadership communication skills and tips for using them

When you hear the word “leader”, does your boss come to mind?

The answer to that question will depend on whether your boss is a true leader. Leadership is a skill that requires practice and understanding; unfortunately, not all “bosses” have this skill set.

Successful companies are built by excellent leaders, not overbearing bosses. Great leaders inspire employees to strive toward lofty goals and help achieve a company’s mission. They galvanize employees with transparent and empathetic communication rather than ruling with an iron fist.

Communication skills are some of the most powerful tools any leader can have in their toolbox. Without quality communication, your business will face confusion, misunderstandings and disagreements. In contrast, effective communication has the power to improve your bottom line and increase morale.

Are you ready to step up your communication game? Keep reading to learn vital communication skills for leaders and tips for communicating more effectively.

Why is communication important in leadership?

Most of what happens in the business world requires helping others understand goals, daily tasks and why each task and goal matters to the business. Your business won’t achieve anything unless you and your team understand these things.

Effective communication provides transparency and motivates those around you to align their goals with your own. It builds trust and enables you to build quality relationships.

Employees who trust company leaders express themselves freely and are more likely to share innovative ideas. This is because they feel safe to take risks.

According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, people at high-trust organizations report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction and 40% less burnout than employees at low-trust companies.

During times of economic instability and global uncertainty, trust in the workplace has never been more important.

The cost of poor leadership communication for your organization

You may have heard the saying, “People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses.” Data from 2023 suggests this concept is at least half true.

Here are a few of the top reasons employees want to leave their jobs:

  • toxic workplace culture
  • feeling undervalued
  • too much stress
  • ineffective/incompatible boss
  • misaligned values

When leaders communicate poorly, it leads to confusion, misunderstandings and the blame game. It creates a stressful environment that diminishes morale, making increased employee turnover inevitable.

Effective communication can solve all these issues, boosting employee retention as a result.

10 communication skills for leaders

It’s easy to talk about the benefits of quality communication, but it’s not always so easy to hone the skills that support it. “Good communication” can mean different things to different people. Effective communication should include these essential skills to achieve the level of transparency necessary to boost workplace morale.

1. Authenticity

Job satisfaction is about more than monetary compensation. Those who work for you want to know you have positive intentions and goals. Your authenticity allows them to see how your values align with theirs. While you might associate this with being unprofessional, it simply means blending some of your humanity and personal values into your everyday business communication.

Over half of US employees won’t even consider a job at a company with values they disagree with. Your employees want to know the person behind the business and why you’re in your current position.

Don’t leave your personality at home. Share it in your communications so your employees gain trust in you.

2. Flexibility

Everyone has a different communication style, and your ability to adapt will speak volumes.

When you get to know your employees and their preferred communication styles, you can tailor your actions to their needs. For instance, some employees prefer detailed instructions, while others prefer looser guidelines.

Learning how each person responds to specific levels of instruction and feedback can empower employees to reach their highest performance levels.

3. Active listening

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is a crucial part of effective communication. However, active listening is more than just hearing another person’s words. It requires listening to understand the meaning behind the words and responding appropriately.

Don’t rush to interpret what someone says. Listen without judgment first. When you craft a response, ensure it aligns with their meaning and doesn’t offer unsolicited advice.

4. Transparency

Share details about the organization’s goals, opportunities and overarching mission to inspire others to follow you.

Engaged employees know what’s going on in an organization and how their role contributes to the company’s goals.

Transparency involves sharing information about the company’s future and opportunities for individual advancement. This means being transparent even when the company isn’t doing well. Give employees the chance to understand challenges so that they can actively engage in finding solutions.

5. Clarity

Clear language with specific details is essential for understanding instructions, feedback and everything in between. When speaking to employees, ensure your expectations are clear. If goals aren’t being met, ask employees for ideas about how they can get the resources they need.

Your communication may involve written emails, verbal explanations in the form of meetings and even project management lists. Using multiple forms of communication helps provide clarity around goals and expectations.

6. The ability to encourage communication

Effective communication requires you to understand your employees’ motivations. It’s tempting to fill in the blanks and assume you know what others are thinking. Learn to ask open-ended questions to avoid assumptions that lead to misunderstandings. For example, simply asking someone to explain what they mean can encourage thoughtful answers.

7. Empathy

If you can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, you’re more likely to understand their experiences.

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to try to understand the adversities your employees face and make decisions that benefit them. Get to know your employees as individuals, and consider how business decisions affect them in and out of the workplace.

Ask for employee feedback through surveys or direct conversations if you lack the information you need to empathize with your team.

8. Open body language

93% of communication is estimated to come from non-verbal cues. Your body language is a strong indicator of how you’re feeling, and if it doesn’t match what you’re saying, your audience may lose trust in you.

Closed body language, like focusing on the floor and crossing your arms, indicates dissatisfaction or anger. Maintain eye contact with the speaker, keep your body open and watch your tone of voice to encourage open conversation with employees. These non-verbal cues can help encourage honesty and build trust.

9. Setting a good example

Communication is about more than words. Your expectations of employees are only reasonable if you adhere to them yourself.

For example, if you expect your staff to adapt to new circumstances, you must be able to lead them through uncertain territory. Follow your words with corresponding actions. When you make assurances, maintain your credibility with follow-through so your employees will know they can trust you in the future.

10. Encouraging and implementing feedback

Your employees need feedback to improve their performance, and you need feedback from employees to improve your leadership performance.

Your employees must feel safe sharing their opinions and ideas without negative consequences. Ask for feedback about your leadership style, and be ready for answers you don’t like. Analyze feedback and act on it to improve your role as a leader.

8 tips for improving your leadership communication skills

Adopting new communication skills isn’t easy. Yet, small changes can have a big impact on improving your communication style as a leader.

Use these eight tips to implement strong leadership communication and improve workplace morale.

1. Set clear expectations

Whether you’re outlining an assignment or onboarding a new employee, your expectations of others should always be clear. You should also ask questions to ensure you’re on the same page.

Remember that asking an employee to reach an undefined goal is like asking an athlete to win a race without a definite finish line.

2. Use simple, direct language

Technical terms, flowery language and industry jargon can prevent clear communication. Direct communication is the best way to share information in any setting. Use simple language and avoid adding extra details when unnecessary.

3. Know your audience

Business leaders wear many hats. It’s your job to communicate with your team, shareholders, vendors and customers. The communication methods you use with one group won’t be appropriate for others. Tailor your conversation to the audience you’re speaking to and their roles in the company.

4. Use storytelling

Engagement is key to good communication. A good story can bring a vision to life or make boring data exciting. Whether you’re communicating one-on-one or speaking in front of a group, framing your narrative in a story can enable you to craft a memorable message that your audience is eager to share.

5. Be prepared

You’ll probably be unable to deliver an effective message if your idea of a plan is “just winging it”. A strong purpose and intention can quickly get lost in a rambling conversation.

You can develop a plan to clearly deliver your intended content by treating workplace interactions like public speaking.

6. Listen and encourage input

Seek information from all levels of employees in your organization. Encouraging employees to share ideas breeds innovation as you let team members know their value. Listen actively when employees provide feedback. Ask follow-up questions and take action to put ideas into practice.

7. Read the room

Whether you’re speaking to one person or delivering a message to hundreds at a presentation, your listeners’ reactions will reveal their engagement levels.

Watch your audience closely for eye contact and affirmative actions like nodding. Leaning forward and demonstrating open body language suggests they agree with your message. Slumping or sitting back with arms crossed or confused expressions means you may need to adjust your message or delivery.

8. Ask good questions

Good leaders listen more than they speak. However, employees might not feel comfortable speaking to you freely.

Thoughtful questions change the environment so that employees are in the position to volunteer information. Ask insightful and relevant questions to recognize opportunities, solve complex problems, enhance collaboration and drive continuous organizational improvement.

Practical tools to upgrade your communication skills

Improving your leadership communication skills involves considerable effort and introspective thinking to recognize your weaknesses. However, like most skills, communication skills can be learned with some help from tools. Here are some suggestions:

Pip Decks Leadership Bundle

Pip Decks are decades of experience distilled into practical toolkits. Like step-by-step recipe cards for business, they help you lead your team with confidence.

The Pip Decks Leadership Bundle contains two decks: Workshop Tactics and Team Tactics. This is the ultimate combo for any manager or leader wanting to up their game.

The Workshop Tactics deck helps you improve collaboration to help your team design better products. The Team Tactics deck helps you design and nurture effective teams.

Pip Decks provides supportive advice, guides and hours of video tutorials to help you use both decks to their maximum potential.

Leadership communication books

Becoming a student is a good way to start when you’re seeking ways to improve as a leader. Leadership books written by successful business leaders are filled with insightful tips and stories you can apply to your own business. Here are a few examples to help you get started:

Workplace communication tools

Workplace communication should be easy and convenient for leaders and employees.

Reduce inefficiencies and encourage increased communication by investing in internal communication tools. These can provide features like chat rooms, video collaboration and document sharing. They can also improve internal communications and support a hybrid workforce by adding structure to your communications. 

Want to learn more about successful leadership? Check out our leadership blogs.

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