Gini Dietrich

Six Tips to Improve Your Leadership through Communication

By: Gini Dietrich | January 2, 2013 | 

It’s a new year. The Mayans were wrong. That means it’s time to buckle down and be an even better leader this year.

Study after study has been done that shows the very best leaders are great communicators. And, as a communications professional, I run into people all the time who think everyone communicates so there must be nothing to do it. Right? Wrong!

Being a great communicator takes incredible skill and years of practice.

In last month’s Inc., Jason Fried (the co-founder of 37Signals here in Chicago) talks about how he’s taking lessons in Ruby on Rails so he can better communicate with the programmers who work for him. Because his expertise is in design, he doesn’t speak the same language as the people programming the company’s new applications. He decided it would be smart to learn enough about what they do in order to communicate with them.

I love this. This kind of earnest curiosity is part of what makes him successful.

But I’m not saying you necessarily need to go back to school to learn how to be a better communicator.

According to SmartBlogs on Leadership, there are six things you can work on this year that will help you hone your skills: Three are foundational and three surround people.

Foundational Communication Skills

As leaders, we sometimes think we’re being extremely clear in our communication. After all, we’re the leaders so everyone must follow what we say. But what we soon discover is not everyone in our organization has access to the same information we do. That means we end up communicating at a level they can’t understand.

Following are three ways to increase your foundational communication skills:

  1. Public Speaking. The nice thing about public speaking is it helps you learn how to explain things in a way that make sense to every audience member, no matter how much (or little) information they have about your topic. But it also drives an incredible amount of referral leads to your business. In fact, speaking is our number one driver of new revenue for Arment Dietrich. Why not hone your skills and do business development?
  2. Messaging. As a communications professional, I’ve spent most of my career helping executives learn how to create clear and concise messaging that not only tells the story, but helps employees understand why you’re doing something. Bill Clinton is the master at this. Anytime you need some tips on how to better deliver your message, watch him do it.
  3. Planning. If I were speaking about this topic, instead of writing it, I would ask you – by the show of hands – how many get up away from their desks and walk the halls or the plants or the stores to talk to their employees. Typically it’s less than 10 percent of leaders. During this short week, take some time to plan when you’re going to have all staff meetings, when you’re going to do town hall meetings, when you’re going to take live questions, and when you’re going to leave your desk. A simple spreadsheet will do, but it will force you to get out there and communicate more efficiently. To get you started, Gretchen Rosswurm has a template you can download.

Employee Communication Skills

These are a little more difficult to define because they are softer skills, but if you work on the following three things, I think you’ll see a big difference in employee morale and company growth a year from today.
  1. Honesty and Transparency. When the economy hit us really hard in 2009, I had to quickly make a decision about whether to be honest with my team or (what I thought) protect them from what was going on. I chose the former, which allowed us to have crucial conversations about the health of the organization and what that meant for their careers. Today I run the business by sharing revenue goals and where we stand from week-to-week. When I tell other business leaders I do that, they cringe. But I’ve found that level of honesty and transparency allows us to focus on the right things instead of my team trying to figure out why I’m making the decisions I do.
  2. Rapport. This one should seem so intuitive, but it’s not. Shake people’s hands, look them in the eye, listen to what they have to say. I mean, really listen. You may not agree, but it is helpful not only from a communications perspective to listen, but it opens your eyes to how the decisions that are being made affect all of your employees.
  3. Feedback. This one is hard. No one wants to tell the boss they’re bad at something. But if you allow honesty and transparency and you build rapport, slowly they’ll begin to tell you the truth. Sometimes it will hurt and other times it will feel nice, but the important thing is you create a safe environment where people can give honest feedback that you’ll use to better hone your skills.
What can you take away from this to improve your communication skills this year?
A modified version of this first appeared in my weekly Crain’s Chicago Business column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.


Great fundamentals here. It's already been said by @HowieG but losing the jargon is huge to me. Our clients are intelligent but human nature prevails and if we don't know something we pretend we do. I always suggest we be clear in a common vernacular and ask if our point is understood. There's nothing wrong with asking someone if they got your point if you sense they didn't (blank stare).

Latest blog post: Quote of the Week


Wait! Because the Mayans messed up, I have to be a better leader? They messed up. Make them be better leaders!


Over the past two years, my colleagues have worked hard to become better leaders after a survey from our department showed we were lacking in this area (must have been the other guys). Communication, especially the points you highlight, is an area where we've put most of our effort. We even created a holiday-themed video a couple weeks ago where we poked fun at ourselves and gave folks a different look at those of us running the department. It went over so well that the employees are now extremely concerned about the heath of the department...and each of us. We believe the effort to improve communication has paid off big time based on morale and productivity in the department, but we won't know for sure until the results of the next survey, which will take place later this month. 


Great post. Happy New Year!


I can't begin to tell you how many high level executives I have worked with over the years who counsel clients flawlessly but are extremely uncomfortable walking the halls and chatting with their own staff.  


You are right about the honesty and transparency....that's why I am with you to the end my friend :)

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is problematic and I think everyone can improve if they try Ms @ginidietrich .First every industry has jargon. Every job type has jargon. STOP USING JARGON!No one else knows this stuff. The guy coding your hot new web service doesn't care about CPM's or ROI.


To add to this


I know Meyers-briggs pretty well and 75% of people are born Sensate Communicators and 25% Abstract. Two different styles. And some of us are natural tool users and other more emotional based.  Not sure the split.


See so you are talking one big mess.


But I would say Jargon needs to go in any organizations big enough to have layers of workers.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

When I think about the people I liked best from a leadership standpoint they always share two qualities:


1) They went looking for our opinions about whatever products/services we produced.

2) They were accessible.


When you feel like you are part of the process and that your thoughts are valued and that there is somewhere to take them it makes a difference.


100% we need to do things like this. I am big on self-education, because it has always been beneficial. I feel that looking into UX, Design, and Coding has made me a better blogger. I have a better understanding of how the "landscape" of my blog matters for readers. While I will never be in any of those fields, I can communicate and ask for help from my friends who are. 


I think all leaders should take the time to speak to those under them. Find out what their interests are and find ways to use those strengths to help the organization. People want to feel that they matter and they do. We don't always have to speak the same language, but we do have to have empathy and a willingness to learn. 

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Erin F.
Erin F.

I hate "great post" comments, but I have nothing to say but "great post"! All six things you mention are ones that are important to me.


I do like the points made in the comments about speaking other people's languages. My odd jobs taught me the importance of that and have helped me to be more confident when interacting with different people.

Latest blog post: Three Words: 2013 Edition


You're never too young to start learning leadership skills and you really should not under-estimate how important they are. Excellent find, oh and Happy New Year Spinsucks Crew ;)

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Some great skills to focus on to accomplish goals this year.


Thanks Gini


Because I work so closely with designers and developers on a daily basis, I've found it immensely helpful to find a common language. It's part of the reason that I've been teaching myself HTML and CSS (as well as work in the HTML editor of Wordpress or Markdown as often as possible). It makes me a more competent and efficient copywriter. 

Latest blog post: My 3 Words for 2013


I love this post. Honesty, rapport and feedback should be the *building blocks* of any great model of leadership. What is hilarious about this post (the timing of it) is that I had a horrible dream last night about you. In the dream I worked in Chicago, and was tasked with prepping you for various speeches and events. I kept failing spectacularly because you wouldn't tell me anything about them in advance!! It was a very stressful dream. :) 


Great post to start the new year, Gini! The point about rapport resonates with me. While social media is great, it cannot replace human, look'em in the eye contact.  You simply cannot discern a client/colleague's reaction to an issue if you haven't invested the time to actually sit across the table from them. This is especially true of the younger PR pros coming up the ranks. Everytime I'm asked to speak to a PR class, the one thing I reiterate is NOT to rely only on social media/email as a way of contact; but to actually pick up the phone or make the effort to meet in person.


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