Even though we may wish it were so, leaders do not exist in a vacuum, isolated and separated from others. Instead, leaders are expected to collaborate with people from around the world, crossing cultural and language barriers. Communication skills are no longer a “soft” skill, but rather they are necessary for any organisation wishing to grow and expand.
Sometimes you probably wish you could lock yourself in your office and work uninterrupted. And that’s OK! But, we have to recognise the importance of communication as technology continues to shrink the world.
You can’t do everything on your own, and communication offers a conduit for new ideas to push innovation along.
In Leadership is Upside Down, we define communication as the ability to impart information or exchange thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. Being able to clearly articulate your thoughts and actively listen are both important to engage and connect with others. The most well-meaning, intelligent, innovative leader won’t be very effective without solid communication skills.1
Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.
Brian Tracy, Author and Speaker
THE SISTINE CHAPEL WASN’T PAINTED IN A DAY,
SO BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF
Great works of art, whether they are paintings, musical compositions, or dance performances take time to develop. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. He didn’t even want the job, and he balked at the idea of painting a fresco. Michelangelo was actually working on the marble tomb of Pope Julius II when he was asked by Julius to paint the Sistine Chapel. He finally agreed, and the piece is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all times. The tomb (which he did eventually complete) is not nearly as well known.2
Leaders may also balk at the idea that they need to improve their communication skills. After all, most of us learned to speak by age two or three. We’ve had years of practice! Just as there are many degrees of art, ranging from cute pictures drawn by kindergarteners to the masterpieces we see in museums, there are many degrees of communication. All communication isn’t good, and we all have room for improvement. So, what does effective communication look like?
- You say what you mean, and you are able to break down complex thoughts into manageable pieces.
- You do what you say to maintain trusting relationships. Essentially, you back up what you say with action.
- You listen with your ears and eyes. You give others a chance to voice their opinions and ideas.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATION
Leadership models seem to come and go, much like fashion or art. However, a model grounded in neuroscience can help you realise your full potential.
The i4 Neuroleader Model includes an assessment which will clue you in on your strengths, weakness and gaps. If you know your communication skills could stand to be bolstered, consider these four tips.
- Practise, and don’t worry about starting small. In the film Make Me A Leader, Brooke Schiller, a consultant and coach who focuses on neuroleadership and team effectiveness, discusses how many of us have the desire to communicate, but this desire is not always appreciated or cultivated in business culture. When you improve how you communicate, you’ll probably see a change in how you interact with others at work and at home. Give yourself time to develop these skills, and start by making small, sustainable changes.
- Learn how to chunk information. Part of the problem with communication is that we often have so many exciting things to share. Complex information can be difficult to pass along to others, particularly if they aren’t experts in the given field. Learning how to chunk information, or break it down into smaller bits can help others understand what you are trying to say.
- Learn to observe others and to (sometimes!) keep your mouth shut. Part of working in a global economy means being able to function and speak with people from all walks of life. Body cues, eye movements, and other unspoken types of communication are often just as important as words we might say. When you spend the majority of the time talking, you’re going to miss cues from the people around you. If you want to retain top talent, you need to give them a voice, too, so knowing when to speak and when to listen is a skill worth having.
- Don’t be afraid to assert yourself. Even though you should listen to others, you should also be ready to assert yourself. It can be hard for some people to overcome programming from childhood days (especially if you were raised in a ‘children should be seen and not heard’ household). If you don’t stand up for yourself, though, it’s likely no one will. You can advocate for yourself while still maintaining a respectful manner.
Learning how to communicate effectively is an important skill for any leader. By listening more, observing others, and practising you can improve how you communicate with people in your life. Better communicators make better leaders, and the benefits will extend to those in your personal sphere.
1. Damiano S, Cubeiro JC, de Haas T. Leadership is Upside Down: The i4 Neuroleader Revolution. About my Brain Institute. 2014.
2. Cohen J. 7 Things You May Not Know About The Sistine Chapel. A&E Television Networks, LLC. 2019.