6 key tips to elevate your leadership communication

Organizational leaders have many priorities, and excellent communication can make their job much easier. 

CEOs must communicate big ideas to audiences that care about specifics—employees, stockholders and target markets. And HR leaders need to communicate rules and protections to employees and candidates. 

Think about your leadership role or the role you want to have. How often are you speaking, writing or listening to someone?

Because it's such a central part of leadership, focus on finessing your leadership communication style. This includes other skills like body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, which all impact how employees see you as a leader.

Read this guide carefully to understand how leadership communication differs from other types of communication and why it's vital in the workplace. We'll also explore six tips to immediately boost your leadership communication.

What is leadership communication?

Leadership communication involves speaking to and interacting with employees and other stakeholders in an organization. 

Its guiding principles are to clearly convey ideas, motivate, generate trust and stay consistent with the company’s culture and mission.

Good leadership communication encourages a healthy work environment and instills confidence in investors or employees. It also prevents misunderstandings or messages that go against the company's mission or strategy.

There are four critical points of leadership communication to consider:

Tailoring your communication style

Two leaders in different companies may be excellent communicators. Still, they need to differentiate their speaking style and strategy based on the company's voice and culture. A laid-back and eco-friendly message may be right for one and wrong for the other.

Leading by example

As a leader, your goal isn't just to share and receive information. You also need to inspire, manage impressions and be proactive about negative messaging. Your communication style as a CEO will be very different from a doctor’s.

Representing your company

You represent your company, so you’re subject to more scrutiny. 

Generally, the stakes for day-to-day communication are low—-miscommunications or iffy phrasing aren’t major issues. Some mistakes are natural when you’re speaking to a bigger audience. 

But there’s more on the line when you’re in a higher leadership position. As a result, leadership communication often has PR-prepared content and tightly controlled promises.

Organization-wide communications

Though there may be little day-to-day communication, get to know your organization’s employees. Communicating with people on multiple levels in different positions is invaluable.

The goal is also generally different for most leadership communications. While you need to convey facts and information, often the real message is emotions, confidence and energy.

Why is communication important in leadership?

Good leadership communication serves several roles in the workplace. 

If you're a C-suite executive, your communication impacts employees' concerns about their jobs, the company's reputation and investors' willingness to pursue ambitious goals. 

If you're a team lead, your communications influence employee engagement, company culture and productivity.

With excellent communication skills, you can hold your teams together through rocky phases. They also help you communicate complex information and dispel conflicts.

Good leadership communication is crucial because of the consequences of poor communication. If you're a bad communicator, your team can struggle to work accurately, on time or according to the project's needs

Poor communication by higher-level leaders can cause even bigger problems. Misleading the public or saying something that opens the company up to liability can make a business appear untrustworthy.

6 ways to boost your leadership communication

As you're building your communication skills, focus on continual improvement and add these tips to your routine. Return to this guide until you’re regularly using all six tips. 

Let’s look at six ways to improve your communication style today. 

1. Know the different communication styles

There are lots of different ways to categorize communication styles and types. 

However, most coaches and business organizations recognize four key types: Passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. 

Just from the names, you can already identify which is best—assertive. Spend time researching indicators of the four styles, why they happen and how to counter them. 

See if you can identify these different communication styles in others. If you have a coworker who is always assertive, see what tactics and wording you can adopt. 

If your employees are passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive, work out what's causing it and try to address those underlying concerns.

Generally, knowing who you’re talking to will help you communicate more effectively. Consider the DISC method:

  • ‘D’ is for dominant—the no-nonsense communicator who just needs instructions
  • ‘I’ is for influencer—the people pleaser who loves being the center of attention
  • ’S’ is for stability—the passive employee who doesn’t like rocking the boat and needs time to process information before responding
  • ’C’ is for conscientious—this worker is more analytical and likes stats, details, and time to process when communicating

Who are you as a communicator? Are you direct, or do you need to reflect before answering? 

If you use these communication styles, find strategies for recognizing those moments. Understand why you default to them, and develop tactics for switching to assertive communication notes instead. 

It takes practice, but simple changes to an assertive style can have a huge impact. 

Going from "We'll have to see what happens" (passive) to "I'll have an update for you by Tuesday" immediately changes the interaction’s tone.

2. Actively assess and improve these six communication skills

Communication is a broad umbrella, so let’s break the concept into specific, manageable skills. From there, you can tackle each one and make measurable improvements. 

The six main communication skills are:

Active listening

Effective communication involves sending and receiving messages, so don't neglect the receiving part. Give the speaker your undivided attention, and don’t let devices distract you.

Active listening is where you focus on a speaker's message and show them you're listening by:

  • nodding, 
  • making eye contact, 
  • using the same phrasing, 
  • summarizing or extending their points and
  • asking clarifying questions

These elements also make the message clearer and more memorable. 

Positive feedback

Giving frequent positive feedback matters, and it helps employees trust you more. They take constructive criticism better because you aren't constantly negative.

Positive feedback celebrates individuals and reinforces vital elements of your company culture and mission. Use this tactic immediately to see a fast positive return.

Clear instructions

Leaders often give instructions, whether they’re showing a new hire how to do a task or motivating a large crowd. And clear instructions are always the easiest to follow. 

Instructions should always be short, actionable and easy for recipients to understand. Some employees may prefer written instructions if they struggle to remember spoken directions. Ensure your instructions are accessible to all.

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. In a new situation, overwhelm can blur what people retain.

Empathetic communication

Empathy is critical in leadership communication. Understanding someone’s emotions helps you read their motivations, share relevant information and address underlying concerns.

When an employee comes to you, a good question to ask is, ’’Do you want me to listen, or do you want my opinion?’’ 

This positions you both for active listening and helps you consciously plan your responses.

Conflict resolution

While no one likes conflict, it’s natural in the workplace. Leaders can’t shy away from it, especially as they’re often the ones to solve the problem. 

Good conflict resolution focuses on: 

  • identifying the first signs of conflict, 
  • empathetically listening to and acknowledging all perspectives, 
  • communicating a response to resolve the conflict and
  • implementing any necessary next steps.

This can vary from figuring out the source of a misunderstanding and correcting it to firing an employee and communicating why. 

Resolving conflict between employees makes you an invaluable leader.

Negative feedback

All leaders need to know how to give negative feedback properly. Many leaders feel uneasy criticizing employees. They worry about likeability, conflict or making a mistake.

Develop a style for making negative feedback constructive and painless. If you’re struggling, use the sandwich or cookie method:

  • share positive feedback,
  • communicate negative feedback 
  • and finish with positive feedback. 

3. Create a communication plan for everyone

Creating a communication plan is a great way to structure and clarify communication within your team or organization.

A team lead may set the standards for team meetings, one-on-ones and discussing daily tasks. Some directors might work with HR to set employee policies and standards. Others may work with PR to create playbooks for communications in different scenarios.

These resources can proactively inform everyone how things should work and be a well-thought-out resource for moments of stress. 

The chain of command can keep order in communication in some instances. However, if you want an open-door policy as a leader, you need to prepare for a revolving door. 

4. Check your communication supports internal goals

Considering your organization is where leadership communication differs from other types of communication. 

Always ensure your messages support internal goals and overall principles. This is invaluable during performance reviews, informing your team about budget crunches or sharing news about a product. 

On top of being clear and effective, your communications must always align with the big picture.

5. Know when you need to reflect before responding

Off-the-cuff answers in sensitive situations are bad for business and can risk your career.

Practice evaluating when an issue needs an immediate response and when you should take time to think over your reply or consult with others.

Develop a playbook of tactics for taking that time. Saying, "I don't have a clear answer, but I'll get back to you by [time]," shows you're listening and want to give good information rather than dodging the issue.

6. Develop speech and motivational skills

As a leader, your communication scenarios are very different. 

You might be the manager in a one-on-one meeting, the leader of department meetings, or a presenter in front of wide audiences. In many cases, you’re a role model to others. 

This means you need leadership communication skills for large groups, such as:

  • Knowing how to give a speech in front of hundreds of people
  • Leading effective department meetings
  • Understanding how to present other people as a moderator for a meeting
  • Improvising openings and transitional speeches
  • Combatting public speaking nerves
  • Providing motivational energy
  • Giving speeches in webinars and video conferences for hybrid work environments

These specialized communication skills are very different from day-to-day needs, so you may need to work on these areas more. You could use a speaking coach or research public speaking tactics.

The main tip: Never stop practicing

It’s important to learn about communication styles and how to give feedback. It’s also important to put things into practice.

Recognizing communication styles, demonstrating active listening, giving speeches and resolving conflicts need intentional practice. 

From getting the wording exactly right to building a range of responses you can turn to, it's never enough to just learn. You also need to practice.

Choose one of these tips to try today, and continue picking up new tactics and tips with the business-tested practices in the Strategy Tactics and Team Tactics Decks for leaders.

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