The most impactful communication, avers Dan Silberman, is when a leader accurately and genuinely recognizes better performance. “When people accomplish more, they deserve feedback that lets them know they’re doing well and are appreciated,” he says. “Unfortunately, this aspect of communication is often neglected. Yet it’s the most powerful when correctly applied. Relatively frequent, specific, accurate, genuine recognition, offered up only when it’s earned, will be seen as credible and valued—and will drive higher levels of performance.”
There are many courses that can help leaders learn the basics of leadership communication, and also consistently develop such skills. Still, truly great leaders are self-aware and self-correcting, says Silberman. “In this context, that’s about continuously examining whether the communication is having the desired effect on the person, team or organization,” he explains. “Great leaders continuously improve by identifying more successful communication tactics and behaviors,” Silberman adds. “In reflection, a good leader asks themselves a range of questions: What am I trying to accomplish? What about my communication did I do that worked well, and why? What must I do differently?”
Listening is a critical skill in all aspects of leadership, including communication. Without effective listening, a leader runs the risk of pushing out messages that fall flat or, in the worst case, are negatively received, says Silberman. “Listening is about being in tune with the audience; it’s often the case that a leader is so consumed with the need to get the message out that the audience is neglected,” he explains. Leaders should ask themselves what things might be going on for the target person or group that might get in the way of understanding the message. They should also consider what might not be being said that they should be sensitive to. Listening is also about respecting and valuing what others feel and say, and not dismissing or minimizing those things. “The bottom line is that good listening enables leaders to be heard well,” says Silberman.
More than anything else, it’s the leader’s job to do everything reasonably possible to help employees succeed, says Silberman. At a minimum, for employees to perform well, they need a clear understanding of what needs to get done. While focusing on goals is important, the employee also needs to have all of the skills and knowledge required to complete the work successfully. “It’s therefore important for the leader to discuss where the skill and knowledge deficits lie, and to work with the employee to plan how to close the gap,” says Silberman. “In this case, the conversation is not only about what needs to get accomplished, but also how it needs to get done. On an ongoing basis, leaders need to be aware of employee performance and provide support: course correction, coaching or training when performance is not adequate, and recognition when performance is worthy of it,” he adds.