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Communication As a Foundation to Leadership

Bryant Nielson

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The rudiments of communication are well known: there's a source, an encoding, and a decoding of a message. This seems rather simple, but faulty communication is one of the biggest failures of leadership - and of projects, processes, even entire organizations. Communication at the leadership level is much more than the basics. It involves your abilities as a leader in communication, as well as your facilitation of better communication and an environment that encourages it. Let's look at the nuts and bolts of a leader's communication.

Our first leadership foundation was emotional intelligence or EI. EI comes in very handy in communication: you must first be assured that you say the right things at the right times. Leaders can be bold, no-holds barred communicators, and in some cases it works - think about great political and military leaders whose personal communication made them attractive. But modern leaders must be aware of all of those around them, their motivations, their “taboos", and their “hot buttons". Be aware of how you say things, whether it's to your family, your community non-profit, or your employees. Use your EI as a meter for whether it's appropriate to say what's on your mind, edit it, or keep the thought or idea to yourself. From this EI-based communication, you'll be able to develop clear speech that is well expressed in all situations - and to all audiences.

What about the other “half" of your communication ability as a leader? This is the listening part, where you must actively take in what's being said. Again, it may seem simple, but think about it the next time someone is speaking to you on a rough day, when you're stressed, or when you're preoccupied with another problem. You must show an interest in what people are saying and show an understanding for it. Paraphrasing at intervals is a great way to do this. It's often been said that one of Abraham Lincoln's best leadership traits was his ability to listen - and then ask questions for clarity. When you do this, you're not only showing an interest but you're also making sure you've got all the facts straight before moving on.

After the basics comes your true leadership test. You must create an atmosphere that encourages open, honest communication between all members of the group. This is much easier said than done. You should look at yourself and the group objectively to see who is comfortable communicating and who isn't. You should also try to find out why they are - or aren't comfortable. Open round table discussions are often a great way to encourage communication, as are brainstorming sessions. Your group, be it a family, community, or corporate group, can be encouraged if you set up a “recrimination free" zone in which communication occurs without the threat of negative feedback. Again, look at yourself to make sure you are communicating openly at all levels of the group. Make adjustments if necessary and keep moving.

While you are creating that open atmosphere, be aware of common barriers to communication - and make bold attempts to remove them. Are there cultural barriers? If you're working in an international group or groups from varying backgrounds, you may have misunderstandings of the communication styles of those backgrounds. Take the time to discover and educate the group. What about perception? Sometimes it's good to ask group members about their perceptions of the atmosphere - and prepare for honesty. Is non-verbal communication an issue? Do people in the group cross their arms, yawn, or roll their eyes when someone else is talking? The hard part of this is making sure you are not the barrier to communication: do you do any of the things we've just discussed?

Taking communication theory into the real world is another issue. Does your family communicate in a healthy way? Can you do something to encourage it, such as bringing up a topic at the dinner table or creating a bulletin board for busy family members to connect? Community organizations sometimes lend themselves to poor communication - usually everyone involved has a “real job" and other commitments, so back and forth exchanges sometimes fall to the bottom of the list. Suggest an informal, open forum in addition to your next board meeting, where members can talk about what's going on in their lives - and how that affects their contribution. In corporate situations, a simple brainstorming session is sometimes the best way to encourage all involved to talk. If you're working with a project team, watch for members who don't communicate and put them together in the same room, with your assistance as a mediator.

Communication as a leader can be simple - you must be prepared to first look at your own style and then at the style of others. Do what you can to encourage communication and it will fall into place. You'll find that things run much smoother when everyone is talking - and listening.

Copyright 2007-2008 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson - National Corporate Sales Trainer - assists executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Bryant is a trainer, business & leadership coach, and strategic planner for many sales organizations. Bryant's 27 year business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering.

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