Use these Communication Hacks to be a More Effective Leader

Use these Communication Hacks to be a More Effective Leader

Business Meeting Conversation
Business Meeting Conversation

The face of leadership is changing. In a recent survey by Forbes, nearly all respondents said that the companies they work for had implemented active diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies. In addition, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that over 120 large companies have adopted environmental, social and governance (ESG) frameworks that measure impact to support a sustainable future. Additionally, workplaces are increasingly demanding and valuing skills like self-awareness and emotional intelligence from their leadership.

Amid shifting states of diversity, sustainability and individual growth, a lot is changing at work, but one constant remains the same. Leaders must continue to demonstrate professional communication skills and deeply understand how to communicate like a leader to make an impact. St. Bonaventure University’s Online Master of Arts in Leadership helps professionals master the art of impactful communication to empower teams, lead projects and establish trust.

Learn how to improve professional communication skills to become a more confident leader.

How to Communicate Like a Leader

Effective communicators are change-makers who turn ideas into initiatives. Communication allows these leaders to build relationships with their teams, relay personal values, and connect individuals to an overarching company mission, vision and culture. Examine leaders throughout history who used their influence to unite groups of people and change the world.

Whether leading an Eagle Scouts team or running a Fortune 500 company, you can use the following techniques to become an influential communicator and trusted leader.

  1. 1. Listen to understand

When you hear the word “communicate,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Too often, people believe that the most crucial part of communication is sharing your internal thoughts and ideas. However, the most significant and overlooked aspect of communication is the ability to listen and understand what other people have to say.

Active listening is a practice and skill that involves being present enough to see and hear the person in front of you. To practice active listening, the listener must engage in the following:

  • Make eye contact and focus on the person in front of you.

  • Sit still and lean forward to indicate attentiveness.

  • Allow the person to finish without interrupting.

  • Embrace periods of silence and allow the person to expand on their thought process before filling the silence.

  1. 2. Ask open-ended questions

After engaging in active listening, the second technique to become a better communicator is to be curious and ask open-ended questions. Entrepreneur, author and podcaster, Lewis Howes said, “You become the most interesting person in the room when you’re the most interested.”

One of the most significant communication mistakes is the habitual need to relate another person’s story to oneself. This habit may cause the other person to feel dismissed or unheard. As a leader, you have a lot to learn from your people. To become a curious listener, restate the person’s point, identify how they’re feeling, and ask open-ended questions like:

  • How did that make you feel?

  • What do you think about that situation?

  • What do you want from this situation moving forward?

  • How can I help?

  1. 3. Think before you speak

A great leader understands that their words hold power, and leaders must filter out unhelpful thoughts to deliver a concise message. Do not fear pauses or silences in a conversation; space punctuates meaning and can enhance communication.

To demonstrate professional communication skills, organize your thoughts and determine what main point you want to convey in your response. Next, draw from your expertise and specialized knowledge to support your points. Strong leaders command respect by demonstrating that they know what they are talking about and providing evidence. Finally, try to offer a solution to a problem. The answer could be as small as asking more questions to better understand an individual or challenge.

  1. 4. Mind your body language

Body language can help or hurt one’s professional communication skills. The correct body language allows a leader to command a room, hold attention and foster higher levels of trust. Conversely, the wrong body language can disengage audiences, provoke uncertainty, and even create a sense of hostility.

Body language includes posture, hand gestures, eye contact and facial expressions. Influential leaders can apply the following body language techniques to enhance their overall communication:

  • Maintain a straight, alert, yet relaxed posture.

  • When another person is speaking, maintain eye contact.

  • Shift your gaze across the room and hold eye contact with one person for 1-3 seconds, then move to the next in a natural manner.

  • Make natural hand gestures while speaking, and refrain from crossing your arms or placing your hands in your pockets.

  • While presenting, take up space and walk slowly and intentionally throughout that space, whether it’s a stage or a boardroom.

  1. 5. Demonstrate authenticity

It’s valuable to observe and learn from the world’s greatest leaders. However, the most beneficial practice a leader can do is find out who they are as a leader and stay true to themselves. Authenticity is powerful. People crave authenticity, honesty and individuality now more than ever.

For example, during the pandemic, many political leaders scrambled to comfort the nation and deliver hopeful messages about resilience and assuredness for the future. In reality, no one understood how long lockdowns would last or what the near future would look like. New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, hosted a Facebook Live Q&A in loungewear while putting her children to bed. She answered what she could, without overpromising, while giving New Zealanders and the world a glimpse into her life at home. As a leader, there is power in showing your vulnerabilities and humanness.

Business Presentation

  1. 6. Provide Value

Learning how to communicate like a leader must involve being of service to a team.

It’s not enough for leaders to demonstrate professional communication skills if they don’t have anything valuable to bring to the table. Come to meetings, conferences and events prepared. Powerful leaders offer value to their teams, whether it’s expertise in a particular area, specialized skills, or leading by example.

Practice self-awareness and determine what unique skills or knowledge you bring to the table. Set out to address challenges that matter, including employee career development programs, actionable initiatives that align with an organization’s mission statement and values (ex., Sustainability, DEI, employee well-being), or improving company culture. A passionate leader with a purpose garners support from others.

  1. 7. Rehearse confident vocal delivery

Although non-verbal cues are important, practicing vocal delivery is fundamental to ensure clear and concise communication. There are several techniques leaders use to sound more confident when they speak. For example, when a speaker raises their tone of voice at the end of a sentence and poses a statement like a question, it indicates unsureness and a lack of confidence. Instead, deliver ideas without asking for approval in your tone.

Another mistake people make when public speaking is rushing through their delivery at a nervous speed. As a speaker, practice slowing down your sentences and timing the pace. Public speaking experts like Dale Carnegie recommend using a prop microphone or recording practice sessions to review progress. Additionally, leaders can apply the following:

  • Choose your words carefully.

  • Replace filler words like “um,” “ah” and “like” with silent pauses.

  • Avoid nervous adjustments.

  • Record, time and rewatch your presentations.

  1. 8. Lean in and speak Up

Motivational speaker, author and coach Mel Robbins warns people about the danger of hesitation, “Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a just nanosecond, but that's all it takes. That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that's designed to stop you. And it happens in less than—you guessed it—five seconds.”

As a leader, you must speak up and contribute to having an impact. However, years of workplace discrimination have made it even more challenging for underrepresented populations to hold a spot at the table and feel seen and heard. For example, researchers reviewed transcripts from more than 24,000 hearings in Congress that spanned 25 years and found that in Senate committees, women were 10% more likely to be interrupted than men.

Furthermore, in hearings related to women’s issues, the research found that women in Congress were twice as likely to be interrupted compared to other hearings. So we have come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.

As a leader, you are responsible for standing up for your beliefs and advocating for yourself and your teams. Additionally, it’s important to amplify the voices of others and use your platform to ensure people can speak up about what matters to them.

  1. 9. Practice with an audience

Practicing public speaking or conversational skills in front of the mirror or video camera can be helpful, but using a real audience to improve communication offers even more significant benefits. Only some individuals are immediately comfortable speaking in front of a group. Public speaking and communication is a learned skill that requires practice and patience.

Ask a few trusted friends or family members to participate in a mock team meeting where you must deliver a compelling message or host a simulated stand-up. This exercise allows professionals to familiarize themselves with a real-world experience in a safe and predictable environment.

  1. 10. Ask for feedback

Great leaders are lifelong learners. Self-awareness has recently been recognized as an essential skill for effective leadership. A self-aware leader has a realistic understanding of their character, behaviors, strengths, weaknesses and abilities.

Self-aware leaders can identify areas for improvement and seek resources and new skills to bolster weaknesses. If you’re leading a team, there are several steps you can take to welcome constructive feedback:

  • Allow employees or teams to submit anonymous feedback about leadership teams.

  • Be visible and accessible to employees to communicate that you are available for questions or concerns.

  • Schedule periodic performance reviews where team members must submit commentary about organizational culture and leadership styles.

  • Ask employees and colleagues directly what you can do to improve.

One-on-one business conversation

Become a Professional Communicator with a Master of Arts in Leadership

St. Bonaventure University’s Online Master of Arts in Leadership teaches students essential knowledge for leadership success, including organizational intelligence, communication skills and global perspective.

As a student, you can complete the 100% online graduate program in as few as 15 months, with no GRE or GMAT requirement. The coursework will equip you to communicate confidently and lead in advanced managerial roles. In addition, you will learn to harness your leadership skills to empower employees and work toward positive change.

Courses range from leadership, ethics and diversity to organizational structure and behavior to leading the digital world and change. Before graduation, students complete a strategic leadership project incorporating the knowledge they have gained into real-world problem-solving for organizations. In addition, each student prepares a Leadership Portfolio that highlights their growth as a leader and development throughout the program.

Learn more about SBU's Online Master of Arts in Leadership