How Leaders Communicate Effectively: 5 Rules

After listing some essential components of good leadership, one expert wrote for Reliable Plant, "But what's the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership? Clear communication." That isn't an isolated opinion. According to billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, "Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess."

Given the prominent role communication has in driving a leader's success, leaders may benefit greatly by examining and applying rules of effective communication.

Rule #1: Build Trust

A business deal is sealed with a handshake.

Image via Flickr by flazingo_photos

Mike Myatt, a contributor for Forbes, wrote an article about the 10 communication secrets of great leaders. The first secret on his list deals directly with honesty. He wrote, "When people have a sense a leader is worthy of their trust they will invest time and take risks in ways they never would if their leader had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity." He went on to suggest that trust fosters a forgiving spirit that comes into play when leaders make mistakes, which is inevitable.

Building trust takes time, and the fundamental steps it takes to build trust touch on other rules of communication that leaders should follow. Writing for Forbes, David Horsager listed some of the strengths that leaders should cultivate in order to forge trusting relationships:

  • Clarity
  • Compassion
  • Character
  • Contributions (results)
  • Competency
  • Connection
  • Commitment
  • Consistency

Rule #2: Pay Attention to Body Language

An article on points out that sometimes body language can send a louder message than words. Both facial expressions and eye movements give clues to your audience about how you're feeling. A smile, for example, can convey confidence, while poor eye contact may indicate a lack of confidence.

When you know how to read body language, you may be in a better position to adjust your own gestures and expressions to increase the efficacy of your communication. A guest writer for Entrepreneur, Travis Bradberry, gave some tips on how to read body language:

  • Crossed arms or crossed legs can signal resistance.
  • Genuine smiles crinkle the eyes. A smile that doesn't create little crow's feet around the eyes may be fake.
  • When someone copies your body language, this indicates that they feel a sort of bond with you.
  • Posture is important. A person who walks with a straight back and shoulders conveys a powerful impression.
  • Pay attention to eye contact. If someone avoids eye contact or maintains eye contact for so long that it makes you uncomfortable, they may be hiding something.

Rule #3: Adapt to Your Audience

You may be familiar with your preferred style of communication, but do you pay attention to that of others? Ted Groski, writing for AG Professional, noted, "To remain effective, leaders need near perfect communication skills regardless of their own communication type."

When you're speaking to competitive and goal-oriented people, for example, you should be to the point and focused on results. If the person you're speaking to has a social nature, you'll communicate more effectively if you allow time for chitchat and put details down on paper. It's best to avoid a harsh tone with these individuals. When you're speaking to mediators, who tend to be calm and team-oriented introverts, it's important to be patient and logical. Highly analytical people require a logical, organized approach to communication.

You should also strive to be aware of cultural differences within your workplace. An article on says, "an effective communication strategy begins with the understanding that the sender of the message and the receiver of the message are from different cultures and backgrounds…this introduces a certain amount of uncertainty, making communications even more complex." Different cultures may assign different meanings to certain gestures and tones, so you may need to do some research to familiarize yourself with the norms of the cultures that exist in your office.

Rule #4: Know How to Listen

Glen Llopis, a contributor to Forbes, wrote an article about how important it is for leaders to listen. He noted that leaders who listen are in a better position to lead a diverse and multi-generational workforce. He wrote, "those who embrace the high art of listening are destined to be the better, more compassionate leaders."

Llopis went on to give some tips on how leaders can become better listeners — the first of which was to show that you care. Strive to view employees as people rather than as assets. People who feel that their leaders care about them are more likely to perform well on the job.

Llopis also admonished leaders to be empathetic and to avoid interrupting others. When someone else is speaking, resist the urge to jump in and offer your point of view before they're done speaking. To underscore the importance of listening, Llopis cited a statistic that said 85 percent of what humans know, they learn from listening.

Rule #5: Be Clear

If you find that misunderstandings frequently arise within your company, you may need to infuse greater clarity into the way you communicate. Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc., wrote, "The winner in every business competition is always whoever communicates the most clearly." James went on to list some of the keys to clearer communication.

The first tip he listed admonishes leaders to know the reason behind any type of communication. What do you want to accomplish? This will help avoid veering off on subjects that have little relevance to the matter at hand.

James also noted that simplicity is important. If you avoid overwhelming others with an overload of information, your message is likely to get across more efficiently.

Learning Communication

Effective communication is at the heart of every good leader. By striving to apply the rules above, you can become better at getting your point across and improve your ability to learn from others.

If you are working toward a leadership position at work, consider building your skills with a Master of Communication Management degree from University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.