Effective Communication for Leaders: 4 Essential Components to Success

Fostering a positive organizational culture requires having the right communication to represent the business’s goals and beliefs.

Successful leaders must be effective communicators. While leaders help develop an organization's strategic direction, they have two other vital responsibilities: to communicate and exemplify strategic goals clearly throughout the organization so they're understood by all, and to foster an organizational culture that enables that strategy's execution. Communication skills require self-awareness as well as an awareness of the various communication styles within the organization.

Key Takeaways
  • Leaders must develop a granular understanding of their messaging and how it fits within the organization's overall strategic goals, and exemplify it through their actions.

  • Establishing the "right" messenger as well as the "right" communication maximizes impact.

  • Tailor messages so that each one has relevance for the recipient and their work.

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Leaders should be aware that effective communication helps employees both understand the impact of their work and align their efforts and engagement with strategic goals. Great communication provides meaning, and thus motivation, for everyone inside the organization. Becky Edwards, director of employee communication at GE, puts it this way: "We define employee communication as connecting employees to the information and people that will help them perform their best, be successful, and drive desired outcomes."

GE Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Gary Sheffer echoes this sentiment. Leaders, Sheffer explains, can help people succeed "by sharing knowledge and understanding their perspectives. Communication can help pave the way for" shared success. By the same token, "Poor communication is repeatedly cited as a key contributor in the failure of major change efforts," says Jo-Anne Facey, an HR consultant for Mercer. Here are four keys to making sure your message is heard:
  • Foster a granular understanding of the message being communicated and how said message fits within the organization's strategic goals, and then lead by example. In order to answer questions and potential objections from employees, leaders must be able to explain "the why," thus placing the message into a wider context and showing the impact and consequences for employees as individuals and for the organization as a whole. The leader must also own the message and set the example for employees to emulate.

  • Use the right messenger to deliver the communication. Leaders can't do everything, and they shouldn't personally communicate everything, either. Instead, they should be prepared to delegate communication to the right messenger. If the message impacts a single project, for example, the project manager may be the right person to deliver it. If it impacts the entire organization, then a top executive is a better choice. Choosing the proper messenger is sometimes just as important as the message itself.

  • Provide the correct channel to optimize the communication. A message is inextricably linked to the manner in which it is communicated, so leaders have to weigh carefully which channels will optimize a message's impact. For example, bad news is best delivered face-to-face in a private setting. If it's necessary to gain "buy-in," a small group meeting that enables interaction may be best. Sometimes, a conference call or written communication will suffice. It all depends on the message, the recipients, and the communication styles of all involved.

  • The message should be tailored to the recipient. Engaging employees is a two-way street that requires leaders to listen, take in feedback, and occasionally modify the message based on that feedback. Departments have different communication styles, employees within departments are at various levels of responsibility, and individuals and teams are anything but monolithic. As with so many things, effective communication isn't an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all process. Communication is "a complex process that must be addressed from many angles to achieve the best results," says Facey, so "leaders must understand all components of the communication process.”