Unlocking Leadership Potential: The Power of Communication Skills

Are you a middle manager or looking to move into a leadership role? If you’re wondering what skill set you need to develop in order to be more effective or get that promotion, communication skills are the one. Of course, as a leadership communication skills coach and trainer, I’m biased. But it’s true. If you can’t communicate well, it will be hard for you to lead.

Recently I spoke to business trainer, organizational consultant, and facilitator Vera Shatska about the role communication skills play in solving leadership, management, and team problems. With big clients under her belt like Nestle, Adidas, and Coca-Cola, Vera knows what she’s talking about. Here’s what came up in our conversation.

Communication skills are power skills

In your day-to-day routine at work, how often do you need to give instructions, give feedback, or delegate tasks? I imagine that you have to do at least one of these tasks daily. That means that you are using communication skills on a daily basis to lead. But have you ever learned how to communicate in a way that empowers and inspires your people? Or are you winging it and hoping for the best?

“Even an excellent strategy doesn’t guarantee any results if you don’t value your team and you are not able to empower and inspire your people.” —Vera Shatska

Companies come to Vera Shatska to solve problems relating to leadership, management, and teams. In our interview, I asked her, “What’s the most common issue you see today with why companies aren’t able to empower and inspire their people?” She replied immediately, “Mindset and soft skills. Middle managers don’t have a leadership mindset. They have to understand how to communicate changes to people, how to delegate, how to give instructions, how to give feedback—routine, day-to-day things. But they’re not efficient or productive because they’ve never been taught how to communicate well.” 

Most of us have never been taught how to communicate well, in fact. Sure, we learn foreign languages in school, but when it comes to communicating what’s inside ourselves to another person, we can get lost. We struggle to be clear. We struggle to be succinct. And when we have to have a crucial conversation (giving someone critical feedback, for example), we can struggle with emotions too. 

I see this all the time with the leaders I work with. They are brilliant with strategy and vision, but they make a feedback conversation a torture experiment. They draw it out. They’re negative. They beat around the bush. They talk too much. It’s painful for everyone, and it doesn’t accomplish the task at hand. From this perspective, it’s clear how practical training in leadership communication skills, like how to use the Situation Behavior Impact framework for giving feedback, would help. But what about the impact from a broader, company perspective? What role do communication skills play in company success?

Image credit, Center for Creative Leadership

Company success is built on trust

“Trust is the foundation of leadership,” says Shatska, “and you can’t build a connection or a sense of belonging without communication. It’s impossible.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked with brilliant business minds who struggle to build a positive company culture because they don’t understand the mechanics of human connection. And as we all know, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

“On the one hand, everybody understands the value of communication skills. On the other, no one does.” —Vera Shatska

Business is built on relationships, and relationships are built on trust. But in the hyper-productivity-optimized business culture of today, relationships often come dead last. 

I was working with an upper-level manager at a tech company the other day, and she wondered why her team didn’t feel connected. I asked her if she took time on a regular basis to connect with them. She said, “Yes, I ask them how their weekend was before we start our weekly meeting.” “You ask the same question every week?” I asked. She seemed confused by my question. Isn’t this what she was supposed to be doing, connecting? 

How to create connections in your team’s day-to-day

What was lost on my client was that connecting doesn’t mean asking any old questions just to tick the “connection box” at the beginning of a meeting. You actually have to show genuine interest in your people as human beings, not just see them as a means to achieving your KPIs. For example, instead of asking, “How was your weekend?” to start every meeting, you can ask questions that strengthen bonds and build relationships. I suggested my client buy the Get Closer Question Game by Intelligent Change.

Here are a few questions from that deck:

  • “What motivates you to get up every morning?”
  • “What is your favorite thing about yourself?”

Another solution is to use the app Warmspace. Warmspace is an app designed to foster high-performance relationships in only five minutes a day. It guides team members through a science-based interaction protocol, a structured conversation “flow”. I had the pleasure of testing the app with Warmspace CEO and friend, Edric Subur in the back of a car on the way to a party one day in Lisbon. I was surprised at how quickly the questions guided us through a meaningful conversation that built trust, empathy, and commitment.

The way to build trust is to get better at connecting and empathizing. This means less talking and more listening. This means asking more questions. It means making time for relationship building. By engaging in these activities, your people feel heard and valued. This translates to the psychological safety that fosters diversity of thought, encourages risk-taking, and improves overall team performance. How does it feel to be at an organization that prioritizes communication skills, and therefore empathy, connection, and trust? Magical.

So if you’re angling to be a leader, or if you’re already in a leadership role and want to be more effective, listen to Vera: prioritize your leadership communication skills. Your team, and your career, will thank you.

Watch the full interview with Vera Shatska here.

What steps are you taking to improve your communication skills and build trust within your team?

 

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