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March 12, 2011

Communication Tips for Leaders

Mike Myatt, CEO coach teaches us on some secrets of great communicators

Regardless of your station in life, both what you say and how you say it matters. It matters to an even greater degree for those in positions of leadership. Leaders simply don’t have the luxury of choosing their words in a cavalier fashion. Whether in written or oral form, your vocabulary matters. Few things make an impact, or lack thereof, like the words you allow to flow from your lips or from your keyboard. Even when you think they aren’t, people really are listening to what you say, reading what you write, and making important decisions about you based upon your choice of words.

Do not make the mistake of taking the importance of communication for granted. Put simply, the ability to effectively communicate with others is often the difference between success and failure. Don’t be fooled into thinking your title, education, influence, or charisma can take the place of sound communication skills. While the aforementioned characteristics certainly won’t hurt, they can be quickly eroded and/or undermined by making poor choices in the words you use.

I have always said that most problems in business could be eliminated through the use of direct, clear, and concise communication. Being a great communicator is one of the “x” factors in business. Part of what makes a great communicator is not only possessing a great vocabulary, but knowing how and when to use it. Great orators have commanded the attention and respect of others since the dawn of time. They are rarely ignored or spoken over, but they are the individuals that tend to inspire, motivate, educate, influence, and lead those around them.

While it would be easy to include discussions on focus, clarity, consistency, active listening, brevity, picking your battles, and a number of the other traits possessed by good communicators, this piece is about vocabulary. Vocabulary is the one of the least costly investments into personal and professional growth that an individual can make. Simply eliminating the “you knows” and the “and ums” from your patter can make a big difference in how you are perceived by others. Ask someone whom you can trust to be honest to give you an evaluation of the depth, breadth, and appropriateness of use of your vocabulary. Then be smart enough to listen to their feedback and diligently work to correct whatever shortcomings were identified. You’ll be glad you did…

If you reflect back on your experience and think of those people whom you hold in high regard, more often than not, they will have been gifted communicators. Rarely will the people that come to mind ever be described as having a poor command of language or limited vocabularies. While I could delve into annunciation, presence, delivery, grammar, syntax, and the like, I have found that it is the more subtle elements of communication that separate the truly great communicators from those that bumble and stumble through their interactions with others. When you can understand and incorporate the following five elements into your interactions, you’ll have developed the communications savvy used by some of the world’s best communicators:

  1. Are your words consistent with your character? Will your choices stand the test of time, or will they come back to haunt you? It is important to understand that words are not easily forgotten – they leave a lasting and often indelible impression.
  2. Are your words consistent with your actions? Nothing hurts a leader’s reputation faster than becoming known for being disingenuous. Do your words build bridges or burn them? Do your words engender confidence or destroy trust? If you say one thing yet do another, it won’t be long before you lose the confidence of those around you.
  3. Are your words intended to help or hinder? Do they offer constructive criticism, or do they belittle and intimidate? Are your words benefiting others or just yourself? Are your words adding value or just adding to the noise? The goal of every interaction should be leaving others with the feeling that the time spent with you was beneficial to them. If you cannot espouse something helpful, then why say or write anything at all?
  4. Do your words leave room for others? If your words overshadow or drown-out the words of others, you’ve simply wasted your breath. Remember that most people don’t want to be lectured and that it’s very difficult to learn anything when giving a monologue. However, great things tend to happen when engaged in meaningful dialogue.
  5. Do your words start conversations or end them? The goal of any interaction is not to have the last word but rather to remain engaged in order to create the desired outcome. You don’t learn, inspire, motivate, influence, educate, or inform by shutting someone down.

Bottom line…The leadership lesson here is that whenever you have a message to communicate (either in written or verbal form), make sure that said message is well reasoned, authentic, specific, consistent, clear, and accurate. Spending a little extra time on the front-end of the messaging curve will likely save you from considerable aggravation and brain damage on the back-end. If you have any additional thoughts or tips you’d like to share, please do so by commenting below – as always, I value your feedback and input…

Mike Myatt is a noted leadership advisor, author of Leadership Matters – The CEO Survival Manual, and widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach. His theories and practices have been taught at many of the nation’s top business schools, and his work has been noted in several publications including: Success, Psychology Today, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, Chicago Sun Times, and others. He also authors the N2growth Blog which has been consistently recognized as one of the top leadership blogs on the Internet. For more info: www.n2growth.com

More from Mike Myatt or visit Mike at www.n2growth.com

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