Rosemary Plorin

What Makes a Great Leader? It Starts With This Essential Trait

By Rosemary Plorin

Great corporate leaders have one thing in common. They are great communicators. Inc. Magazine has reported that poor communication costs large companies approximately $26,000 per employee. Even when corporations spend millions on leadership training, the results are often temporary. S what does it take to become a great corporate communicator? And, how can you improve your style and become more effective?

A New Way of Thinking

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotional and mental ups and down of developing a successful business. There is always an opportunity to pursue, a hurdle to manage or a problem to solve. Countless studies have shown that successful leaders refuse to think negatively, choosing instead to focus on positive outcomes. They believe they and their team can manage and grow from whatever comes up. Confidence and positive thinking trickles down through the organization, giving everyone a more focused and assured outlook.

If you find yourself feeling anxious, unsure or inadequate, try drawing on your mind’s capacity to deliver positive results. Learn to think and speak in affirming ways. For example, if someone asks how a project is coming along, begin with a positive statement. Opening with a positive statement, also known as a power lead, sets the tone for subsequent discussions.

Ask then listen_ Rosemary Plorin

Ask, Then Listen

Communication is not a monologue. It involves speaking, asking questions and actively listening to what others say. There is an art to the question/answer give-and-take that successful leaders use to not only gain valuable feedback, but also to impart a sense of engagement. People are motivated by leaders to whom they feel they have a relationship.

Leading questions, such as asking team members to share a recent success, also motivates, enhances morale and inspires team confidence. Asking a simple, open-ended questions of the old standard why, where, when and how variety typically results in the right answer.

Listening is often the more difficult part of the communication give-and-take. If you find yourself waiting to jump into a conversation, looking at your watch or otherwise zoning out when others are speaking, you have work to do. Actively listening is an often overlooked skill that most every successful leader knows how to do. Here are some tips to develop your listening skills:

  • -Maintain eye contact.
  • -Respond appropriately with gestures, nods, smiles.
  • -Sit forward and give the speaker your full attention.
  • -If something a speaker says is unclear, try paraphrasing back to indicate interest and make sure you understand what the speaker is saying.
  • -Think about what is not being said. Watch the speaker’s body language. Ask yourself if there are underlying emotions or difficulties the speaker is not conveying in words.
  • -Let others finish speaking before you take the floor.

The Way You Say It

The words and tone you use when you speak has an immediate impact on the listener. Effective communicators know how to get their point across without making a team member feel defensive, hurt, angry or inadequate. For example, instead of saying, “You haven’t finished this project,” try, “I understand there is still more to do.” Remember that people are motivated when they feel they are part of a team, so avoid using the word “you.” The listener feels singled out – even attacked – and automatically becomes defensive. Accusing, blaming and sarcasm are deadly practices that kill motivation.

More Than Words

We touched on it earlier, but effective communication is more than the spoken or written word. The best corporate communicators know how to create a working environment that encourages creativity, passion, innovation, motivation and a genuine desire to work toward the company’s success. Creating such an environment involves making team members feel like they belong and drives employee engagement. It means that corporate leaders and managers ensure a nurturing culture where members feel safe, without the fear of bullying or favoritism.

A recent Training Magazine study found that only a small portion of respondents reported receiving praise at work in a given month. Clearly, empty praise is just that – empty. Most people can tell a phony. But genuine appreciation and praise for a job well done builds confidence, loyalty and morale. Leading communicators publicly praise their employees’ work and share big and small successes often to keep teams motivated and strengthen bonds.

Pulling It All Together

Effective leadership starts and ends with purposeful and finely honed communication skills. Listening, foreseeing affirmative outcomes, being truthful, using the right tone and showing appreciation combine to create an environment in which team members feel valued. It’s never too late to refine your communication skills, motivate your team, influence customers and benefit your organization. Today’s great communicators weren’t born with communication skills, they’ve learned and prioritized them. You can, too.

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