Gini Dietrich

Six Tips to Improve Your Leadership through Communication

By: Gini Dietrich | January 2, 2013 | 
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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.

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