Communication – The key to Successful Leadership!

It seems to me that we are making the art of leadership too complicated. There are umpteen theories that all have one thing in common – they work for some and for others they don’t.

Would Virgin group be what it is today if Richard Branson hadn’t mastered the art of communication?

Most people who suddenly find themselves in a leadership position swiftly realize that the top position is completely different from what they imagined. And worse, there is no manual.

Lonely at the top

There is no school for becoming a successful leader. New leaders frequently feel lonely since there are fewer people privy to high level information. It can be overwhelming. So much so that the fact that a leader’s success depends on communication is frequently forgotten.

Too many theories confusing

Richard Branson is an excellent example of a very successful leader who masters the art of communication. To the extent of jumping from high buildings to get the attention needed to promote a new Virgin venture. Don’t think anybody would dispute how successful he is. But the confusion caused by all these theories and schools of leadership actually led one guy straight out of university to have the audacity to make a comment in a discussion on Linkedin that he had a lot to teach Richard Branson. Indeed? What are the odds of he, or anybody else, becoming as successful a leader as Richard is? Pretty slim, I’d say considering that very few ever become as successful as Richard Branson is. And the success of Virgin is very much down to his exceptionally good ability to communicate.

The tasks of a leader is, simply put, to vision where a company is heading (strategies, future accomplishments, managing the destiny of the organisation and so forth), find the people the organisation needs to fulfil it’s vision, make choices and take decisions. Leaders also have to continuously serve, learn, correct, evaluate and motivate.

The leader’s most powerful tool

And how are you going to succeed with all that if you don’t master the art of communication ? Both internally and externally it’s the most powerful tool a leader has. It’s crucial to communicate with others about trends that affect the future of your business and stretch your thoughts by discussing your ideas with friends, associates and other great thinkers.

What can be achieved without constantly communicating?

Ideas are an extremely powerful force. By communicating ideas to people you engage their minds and help them see new possibilities and new opportunities. Strong and evocative ideas energize people and incite action. As leaders, our ideas are important. Leaders need clear ideas and philosophies about how to win in the marketplace, how their organisation should operate and how to develop their people.

Leaders succeed because they are able to focus and deal with the 5% of issues that are crucial, build support, create followers, put out fires fast and finish what they started. How would that be possible without communicating? Especially since many decisions are instant so a non-communicative leader would fail miserably.

Successful leaders spend much more time communicating their decision than actually taking the decision. Lots of time is also spent on coaching and motivating others. And, tedious as it can be, repeating the decision to get maximum effect. But despite that most people wrongly believe leaders spend most of their time making decisions. Leaders who only take decisions will fail miserably since communication is the key ingredient. Not communicating enough is hence the main reason for failure and not, as many believe, that they were following the wrong theory. And don’t forget that leaders live in the future so the more your communication enlightens you about tomorrow the better a leader you will be!

(Photo: Flickr linniekin)

85 responses

  1. Some good points, Catarina.

    Communication is absolutely critical to leadership – something that is too often neglected. If you do not communicate properly, how do you expect to be able to inspire people to follow you?

    Richard Olivier, son of the famous Shakespearean actor Sir Laurence Olivier, has written a great book called 'Inspirational Leadership' (and runs a course by the same name, which I was able to attend a few years ago). Drawing on Henry V, arguably Shakespeare's greatest leader, he shows the importance of being able to inspire in order to get he best from your people.

    As the global economy emerges from the worst downturn since the last World War, leadership skills are going to be central to rebuilding businesses and the economy in general…

  2. Communication is key in everything. The same way leadership doesn't come with a manual, neither does parenting. In order to be good at both, one needs to be able to communicate effectively, practice the art of active listening, and use a lot of common sense 🙂

  3. Great post Catarina. No doubt, communication is vital to leaders and for that matter everyone. I've always believed "its not what you say… it's how you say it." When I coach my clients, I help them to develop communication that is effective and whenever possible a win win situaion. Skills such as injecting empathy (sincere of course), make a difference too. One example of when empathy was sorely missing was when the head of BP came to the US after the oil spill and said "I just want to get back to my life". I can't remember his name, but I don't think he's working for BP anymore.

  4. Hi Catarina,

    You bring some great points. A few years ago there was an article in a magazine about great leaders and one guy mentioned was the CEO of Kimberly Clark. His attributes were the ability to not only communicate well but as he was humble he enabled others in sharing his vision and get their input which led to better results.

  5. Great post, Catarina. You are so right, there is no manual. It is amazing that in a world of super fast communication, it seems we are communicating less. Perhaps it is people are talking more and listening less instead of making it a 2 way street.

    Having just finished reading Richard Branson's "Busines Stripped Bare" the comment by the young man really made me smile and shake my head. Can only imagine the comments on the LinkedIn thread. Aloha. Janet

  6. Thanks Catarina…
    So often it seems that people get hung up in the mire of the minutia and forget the big picture. communication is so key in any relationship, but as a leader, CEO, manager, etc. communication is critical. The lack of good communication can be the beginning of the end. Great communication, as seen in the case of Sir Richard Branson, is a classic example of amazing success. Thanks for the great article.

  7. Thank you and glad you agree with me Bob.

    Pity not enough members of C-suite use social media. It's better in the US but in the rest of the world very few use social media the way they should. Regarding social media it's essential that a company has guidelines for how employees use social media. If not, there could be unpleasant surprises.

    If I will be in DC in April I will check out your seminar.

  8. Perhaps the problem comes from higher up. Do we promote people with good communication skills or do we attempt to teach communication skills to those whom we promote?

    Substitute the word communication with the word leadership and we come closer to understanding the problem.
    My recent post

  9. Love this Catarina. Even with college programs for leadership and leadership trainings, you really don't know who will be a recognized or great leader until they start communicating. Good one. Thanks.
    My recent post Introvert Tip – Top 3 Innate Strengths for Public Speaking

  10. Being an effective leader one must also learn how to listen and understand, only by doing so can one communicate more effectively with the various stakeholders. Else, the communication ends up being nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
    Also good leaders should know the mode to use for each communication. At times, face to face meetings are vital, on another occassion a mass email would work.
    Communication across borders also involves knowing about cultures across the world. A lot of hard work goes into effective communication. But as you said, communication is the most powerful tool a leader has.
    My recent post Keeping Score, a guide to love and relationships

  11. The challenge has been and always will be in the art of conveying your vision when you're in a leadership role of any kind. When that skill is present, one can move mountains and motivate others to help make that happen. Communication is not always limited to speech making, it also comes in the form of actions and the day to day communication with the many who are part of an organization. It can be subtle or not so subtle, but it is still an art and one that any leader should strive to acquire to be successful.
    My recent post That Holiday Feeling: Story

  12. Another excellent post Catarina. Sure strategic planning and decision making are part of a strong leaders job, but without strong communication skills, then how can you expect to get your own team behind you never mind the rest of your market? Communication is actually everything – sometimes even ahead of the actual product itself.
    My recent post MuseMedium: The Past and John Steinbeck

  13. Catarina — I couldn't agree more. The reason why most leaders fail is because they lack basic communication skills. I've held senior communications positions in companies and PR agencies and I saw it all the time. Before the Internet, it was easy to keep employees in the dark. But now a CEO's most important job is communicating the good news — and the bad, because if s/he doesn't, then the message will become totally distorted by employees and enemies posting on social media.

  14. A lesson that many school administrators have yet to learn. It usually their way or the highway, which only adds to all the frustration and futility of trying to teach in the USA educational system. Sorry if I sound like a broken record by always using school examples…

  15. Communication is key. It’s too bad that many people who reach the upper levels of management forget this.
    My recent post Author Interview – Hannah Fielding

  16. Good post about the importance of communication. I just came from a Toastmasters meeting, so communication is front & centre in my mind. TM also focuses on leadership skills and you're right in that being able to effectively communicate is necessary in order to be a great leader. Happy Holidays.
    My recent post Priming Your Passions

  17. I find that good communication is only one aspect of being a good leader. I have found that having clear expectations for my employees and for myself to live by is key and we all need to hold each other accountable to those expectations. I also feel that building relationships with my employees as well as empowering my employees to make decisions and be an important part in the development of ideas. Leadership is a skill not a position or title. The more leaders that we can create in our organizations the better we will be as an organization.

  18. My definition of a good leader is someone who is open-minded and willing to make changes when there needs to be a change. Life is always changing and leaders need to change with every situation. Great article! =)

  19. Another great post Catatrina. I've always wondered why business schools seem to almost completely ignore this. I took a leadership course on Coursera not long ago where they took great pains to stress the importance of EQ and Leadership… connecting and leading through communication. I wonder how different our world would look if our world leaders were better communicators…with each other!

  20. Failure to communicate properly leads to discontent, incorrect actions and loss of morale. What I don't know is if communication skills can be taught or if real leaders have these skills and that's what makes them stand out from the crowd to become leaders. Another great thought provoking post, Catarina.

  21. Very important and thought provoking post Catarina

    We have seen that now is the age of communication. If one do not have this art then can not be successful in any field. I like the story about comment on Linked in. Communication is important for leaders and all of us.
    Poor communication sometimes leads to great problems. Sometimes I wonder if one can master the art of communication or it is a born skill , if so how can it be polished?
    Sometimes the boss in different companies forget its true essence and become cause of failure and then throw responsibility on subordinates.

  22. Good post. Communication is important. Through my career, I've witnessed too many situations where a leader or group of leaders developed a vision or set a direction and expected employees to make the vision happen or understand decision with minimal communication or explanation. Needless to say, it didn't always work out well. I would also add that good communication includes being able to listen. Understanding employee and customer concerns helps both in decision making and in knowing how best to explain those decisions.

  23. Over and over again, communications is identified by researchers, and corporate leaders, as they key to business success. In my humble opinion, it's key for success period.

    Your choice of Richard Branson is an outstanding example of what this means.

    Always brilliant Catarina. Thanks.

  24. Yes, communication is vital. A great leader not only explains and teaches but also listens to their employees so that he/she can tell whether they have understood what has been told to them. It doesn't matter how extensive the explanations are unless the recipients comprehend what is meant. Good topic and excellent post.

  25. I agree leaders often miss the mark when they underestimate the value of taking time to directly communicate their vision and message to their staff. While they often communicate to their executive teams they do lose sight of the importance of communicating to all levels of their employees, customers and stakeholders.

  26. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that some people end up in leadership DESPITE their poor communication skills. They are promoted through the company because of other positives or they start the company themselves. If they are self aware enough to realize they cannot communicate easily, they delegate as much of the communication as possible.

  27. You nailed this one. Communication is key no matter what business you are in. Whether you are coaching an athletic team or a team of IT professionals if you can’t communicate your chances of success are slim to none.

  28. Well said Catarina! I spend more than a few of my early career days in corporate America and without question the leaders I valued and learned the most from were excellent communicators.
    My recent post Could Today Be The Day?

  29. When I opened your blog and first saw the image I thought it was a picture of Che Guevara, not Richard Branson. Totally different kind of leader. But maybe a few of the same attributes.

  30. I think communications is vital for every aspect of business or life, if you are a leader or not. Marketing is just a form of communication, and it that marketing does not work, the company does not sell its product. Many marriages fail, because of a lack of communications.
    I think communications as a leader is a basic necessity that they must possess. If a leader cannot communicate his plan for the organization, then how does that organization know which direction to go.

  31. I couldn’t agree more however it seems that, sometimes, in the face of overwhelming study and common sense, some folks become leaders without being great communicators. But those that can make leaders you will be extra productive for and I guess that is the point.

  32. The Japanese call part of what you talk about, Nemawashi, being the process of communicating something before hand to ensure buy in. It is a very critical component of successful leadership. And as most organizations are inevitably shaped top down, a leader who does not communicate creates a silent organization.

  33. Leaders that can convey their vision can move mountains by motivating others to make that happen. The challenge in the art of conveying that vision. Successful leaders acquire the art of communication which isn't just limited to speech making, but also the actions and the day to day communication with members of an organization.

  34. Indeed, leaders MUST motivate others in helping to achieve his/her vision. Communicating accurately is so so important!

  35. Without good communication, leadership is pointless. What also matters is how leaders communicate with employees and relate to them on the same level.

  36. Being an effective leader one must also learn how to listen and understand, only by doing so can one communicate more effectively with the various stakeholders. Else, the communication ends up being nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
    Also good leaders should know the mode to use for each communication. At times, face to face meetings are vital, on another occassion a mass email would work.
    Communication across borders also involves knowing about cultures across the world. A lot of hard work goes into effective communication. But as you said, communication is the most powerful tool a leader has.

  37. I opened your blog and first saw the image I thought it was a picture of Che Guevara, not Richard Branson. Totally different kind of leader. But maybe a few of the same attributes.

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