Published - November 2002

By Dave Jakielo

Communicating, An Essential Part of Leadership

One question that I hear over and over again is, "How can I be a more effective manager?" Before I can answer that question, we need to clarify something so we are all on the same page. You can manage projects or situations but you cannot manage people. People must be led, not managed. So let's rephrase the above question to, "How can I be a more effective leader?"

Leadership has many facets and one of the most critical is being able to communicate effectively. Before you entered the wild and wonderful world of "management", you may have been able to get by with sub-par communication skills. However, if you develop communication skills early on in your career, it will put you on a faster track to a leadership role.

When it comes to communications, there are four essential areas:

Really listening may be the most underutilized of all the leadership skills. Communication is a two-way street, but to be effective or to be considered a great communicator we should listen twice as much as we speak. That is why the human being was designed with two ears but only one mouth. You do the math. Listening is hard work. Many of us need to force ourselves to pay close attention to the other person to absorb what they are conveying. Often, instead of paying attention to what the other party is saying, we are busy planning our response or just waiting for our chance to talk. Some of us can't even wait and rudely interrupt. A leader needs followers, but followers don't value someone who doesn't even have the time to listen to their wants, needs, ideas, etc.

Talking may seem to be a given in communication. But the key to talking is not just what you say but how you say it. It is important for you to be clear and concise. Don't use jargon that maybe foreign to you audience. Don't take for granted that everyone knows the same abbreviations, industry slang, etc. that's familiar to you.

An important part of talking goes beyond words. Vocal vitality means how your voice sounds or the enthusiasm contained in your message. It is hard to follow a leader whose voice lacks energy or comes across in a monotone style. Lack of vocal vitality sounds as if the speaker feels that what he or she is conveying is unimportant.

It is amazing to me how few people read non-fiction books or articles related to their areas of responsibility. Leaders need to read a minimum of one book or industry-related magazine per quarter. Not only does this expose them to ideas and strategies of how to deal with team members, but it keeps them current with what's going on in the industry. Reading also stimulates innovation and creativity. It offers a fresh perspective and provokes thoughts that can apply to individual situations.

How much e-mail do you send a day? Do you realize that every e-mail you send is exposing your writing skills (or lack thereof) to an unknown audience? Since e-mails are sometimes forwarded, others may see what you have written. Today your ability to write is more important than ever. And you thought you were finished with writing after that last term paper in school! There are classes, books, and seminars on how to write effectively. Invest some time and money to ensure your skills are top notch. Poorly worded e-mails, memos, or letters can erode people's confidence in your perceived expertise.

To be a successful leader and communicator does take time and effort. But remember, that is why they pay you the big bucks.

If you have questions or ideas on topics for this monthly feature, contact Dave Jakielo, Seminars, Training and Consulting, 86 Hall Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15205-3214. Phone: 412-921-0976. Email Web page (which includes past articles):

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