Why Communication Skills Are Crucial for Leaders PDF Print E-mail
Written by Heather McCrae   
Friday, 29 March 2013 02:21

When you think of the skills that are crucial for leaders, certain factors come to mind. Confidence. Quick-thinking. Consistency. Charisma. Another important skill? Effective communication; in fact, some argue that communication skills are the most important skills a leader can possess. Having a vision and a plan is not enough unless you are able to effectively communicate those goals and get buy-in from those you’ll be working with. If you can’t clearly articulate — in writing or verbally — your goals and how to get there, then you’ll most likely fall flat as a leader.

Barriers to Communication

Almost everyone has worked with a leader who lacked communication skills. Perhaps instructions were muddled — or you had no idea why you were doing certain tasks, other than you were told to do so. Perhaps your ideas were ignored or you never really had an in-person conversation with your leader, since most of the communication in the office took place over email or via phone.

And perhaps, poor communication influenced your ability to do your job well, whether it was as simple as mistakes caused by poor instructions or a more pervasive dissatisfaction with the fact that you felt as if your concerns weren’t being heard; in fact, poor communication between leaders and employees is one of the top reasons why people leave their jobs, even in a challenging economy.

Leaders may inadvertently alienate their employees by falling into some common communication traps. For example, when they draft an email or policy, they might not clearly articulate the purpose of the message — or they might use language or a tone that leads readers to feel as if they are not respected or valued, or even intimidated. Or they might choose the wrong medium for delivering an important message, sending an email when an in-person meeting would be more appropriate.

Good Communication Is a Skill

Not everyone is a born communicator, but even those who struggle with finding the best way to express themselves, can learn to be better communicators and improve their leadership skills. In fact, communication is so important that most leadership degree programs include a communication component, teaching potential leaders about such concepts as:


  • Open Communication. When a leader models open and transparent communication, and encourages employees to communicate with each other, misunderstandings are reduced and employees feel more valued and understood and perform better.
  • Clarity. Ask anyone who has ever worked for someone else and they can probably provide a time when unclear communication affected their ability to do their job. Leaders who communicate clearly with their subordinates will see a decrease in misunderstandings, mistakes and dissatisfaction.
  • Nonverbal Communication. Everyone knows someone who will say one thing while their body language communicates something else. Studies show that at least some portion of any message is communicated nonverbally, and leaders need to understand how their body language and expressions communicate with others. Nonverbal communication extends beyond body language; for example, a leader who comes to work late every day or takes three-hour lunches, sends a message to employees about the value of time and how they should schedule their days. Leaders who only send bad news via email, or never answer their phones, also communicate powerful messages. Because leadership often happens by example, potential leaders need to understand how everything they do sends a message — and how they can control that message to build a more effective team.

Effects of Bad Communication

While leaders who communicate effectively tend to have more satisfied employees, better performing teams and fewer turnovers, leaders who are poor communicators often experience the opposite. Their teams may be uninspired, performing the bare minimum or there may be an office culture of gossip or backbiting. Poor communication might not torpedo the entire department, but it definitely will not create an environment of teamwork and understanding.

Developing effective communication skills is a process. If you feel you are lacking in this area, take courses or workshops, and observe and model those who you think are effective communicators. Take time to develop this skill, and you’ll see an improvement in your leadership skills and team performance.

About the Author: Heather McCrae manages corporate communications for a large educational services firm. She blogs about corporate communication issues for several sites.