The Single Most Important Tool for Great Leadership

There is no shortage of information available on the topic of leadership. Google the word leadership and Google tells you there are “about 401,000,000 results.” If you type the same word into the search box on Amazon’s web page it returns just over 104,000 results. I’m often asked, when I speak or teach on the subject of leadership, “What is the single most important tool a leader should have in his toolbox?”

Now, you might think, with all of the information available on leadership, it would be impossible to narrow it down to a “single most important tool,” but, the truth is it’s not hard. There is a single most important tool – a tool that you must have – if you want to be a successful leader. What is that tool? Communication.

Dictionary Series - Marketing: communication

There are lots of things a leader must be good at. There are many gifts and skills he or she must have. For instance, planning, motivation, strategic analysis, critical thinking, and organization are just a few of the qualities a good leader must have. However, without the ability to clearly communicate, on many different levels, in many different ways, and in many different situations, all of the other strengths are, for all practical purposes, useless.

Here are a few things to remember when you’re communicating. These apply regardless of the medium, the message, or the situation. First there are the 7 C’s of good communication:

  1. Clear
  2. Concise
  3. Concrete
  4. Correct
  5. Coherent
  6. Complete
  7. Courteous

You should always insure that whatever it is you are about to communicate satisfies each of the 7 C’s.

Next, simply go through this simple exercise and it will make the communication process go much more smoothly.

  1. Decide what it is you want to say. In other words, what do you hope to accomplish with this communication.
  2. Decide how you’ll say it.There are lots of mediums and you have decide which is best for this message and this situation. It’s okay – and typically advisable – to communicate via multiple mediums.
  3. Think about how those you are communicating with will hear your message and then tweak it accordingly. Often, we communicate based on how we might hear the message. You must think of the others… how will they hear it. Say it so it makes sense to them.
  4. Explain what you said. No matter what you say or how you say it, it’s always best to say it again in a different way. Provide context and explanation. Whatever you’re telling them many not be new information to you, but it likely is to them. Be sure it makes sense and they understand the why.
  5. Make it very clear if any action is required on their part. What do you want them to do as a result of your message? Tell them, don’t assume they know.
  6. Make sure what you said was understood. Despite our best efforts, sometimes we just don’t get it across the first time. Be sure everyone understands and keep talking (or writing or whatever) until you’re sure they got it.
  7. Invite feedback. Good communication is not a one-way process. The information must flow two ways in order to be effective. Two-way communication builds trust. A one-way message, at the least does nothing to advance a trusting relationship, and at worst (and far more likely), destroys trust.
  8. Listen. Sounds simple right? But, often this is the hardest part. You’ve asked for feedback, now listen. As leaders, our tendency is often to issue our edict and then move on. We don’t want to hear that there might be another way or there may be ramifications that we hadn’t considered. We must listen. If our team doesn’t think we hear them, they’ll soon cease hearing us. We must listen, not simply hear, but listen and then act appropriately based on the information we receive.
  9. Follow-up. The last piece is to check in with everyone to (a) be sure they heard you, (b) be sure you heard them, and (c) be sure the actions that needed to be taken are underway.

A good communicator is not necessarily a good leader, but 100% of the time, a good leader is a great communicator.

QUESTION: What is one thing you can do, this week, to improve your communication?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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