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)

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46 Responses to “Communication – The key to Successful Leadership!”

  1. GuyW Says:

    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. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Guy!

  3. David Olinger Says:

    Excellent post. Communication is one of the most overused words in management yet the least well practised. People think they are communicating or assume everyone has gotten the message, but haven't … especially in this day of technology.

    As a leader, it is key to remember that communication happens in everything we do, whether in written form or orally, one-on-one or in a meeting. It is also important to remember that if we are not communicating well internally, we are not likely doing well externally.



  4. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree David.

  5. Rashid Says:

    Leaders don't seem to have too much trouble telling the rest of us what they think we ought to do.

  6. catarinaalexon Says:

    Rashid most likely the "leaders" you refer to are not leaders but managers. There is a huge difference between leading and managing.

  7. catarinaalexon Says:

    Not sure how a leader can be visionary, inspiring and really sell his/her message without communicating?

  8. catarinaalexon Says:

    Arnold, then he is communicating, albeit in a dishonest way.

  9. Julie Weishaar Says:

    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 :)

  10. keyuri joshi Says:

    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.

  11. Susan Oakes Says:

    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.

  12. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you completely Julie.

  13. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes BP really communicated badly didn't they. A very good example of crisis communication going bad, isn't it.

  14. catarinaalexon Says:

    Excellent point Susan. Being humble is a vital part of communication. Communicating in an arrogant way turns people against you.

  15. catarinaalexon Says:

    It's amazing isn't it that so many people are bad at communicating. And that they don't understand that it's key to leadership.

  16. Janet Callaway Says:

    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

  17. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you Janet. Pity that so many people, including the young man, think there is a manual. And when a "new manual" i.e. theory is launched they change tactics.

  18. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you liked my article and agree with me Sebastian.

  19. Martin Casper Says:

    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.

  20. catarinaalexon Says:

    My pleasure Martin.

    Richard is a wonderful example. Don't know him, but we have a lot of friends in common so I have met him several times. He really knows how to communicate and make people feel good when he is around.

  21. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you Dumont. Glad you agree with me.

  22. Bindhurani Says:

    Very thoughtful article. I agree with you.
    My recent post Interview with StudioMilika on Etsy

  23. catarinaalexon Says:

    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.

  24. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you Bindu!

  25. Slim Says:

    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

  26. Patricia Weber Says:

    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

  27. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thanks Pat. Glad you like it.

  28. Lubna Says:

    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

  29. Susan Cooper Says:

    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

  30. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Lubna.

  31. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points Susan. Glad we are of the same opinion.

  32. akandrewwriter Says:

    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

  33. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you AK. Glad you agree with me.

  34. Jeannette Paladino Says:

    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.

  35. JeriWB Says:

    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…

  36. catarinaalexon Says:

    True Jeri. And it applies to school administrators all over the world, unfortunately.

  37. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points Jeannette. Glad we agree.

  38. Geek Girl Says:

    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

  39. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree. You know, I think how good C-level executives are at communicating varies from country to country. My impression is that you find more in Europe than anywhere else.

  40. Doreen Pendgracs Says:

    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

  41. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Doreen.

  42. Kirby Schafer Says:

    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.

  43. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points Kirby. You are right. This article however only deals with one aspect of leadership. The subject of leadership is far too big for one article. It takes a book, or series of books. If you are interested you can search on leadership in search on the right side and you will find many other articles dealing with different aspects.

  44. Kettlebell Says:

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  45. crystalzakrison Says:

    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! =)

  46. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me, Crystal.

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