5 Simple Steps to Develop Communication Skills as a Leader

Effective communication for leadership development!

Track Your Performance to Improve Your Communication Skills as a Leader

Improve Your Communication Skills to become a Better Leader!

Have you ever wondered how leaders have mastered their communication skills to become so influential? Certainly, you want to get to the top of your profession, don’t you?

Your COMMUNICATION SKILLS determine your ultimate career success. #CommunicationSkills

You must first realize that you’re “on stage” during every encounter you have at work. All of us may not be in sales, but we’re always performing. From a recurring staff meeting to an executive briefing, there are those within the organization who are always evaluating your credibility and who will greatly influence your next role. I’ve seen countless employees fail to recognize this important concept, only to be passed over for promotions. Don’t let this happen to you! The earlier you improve your COMMUNICATION SKILLS the faster you’ll become an influential leader.

You must always clearly articulate your technical knowledge and professional judgment in all meetings, on conference calls, and through e-mail.

Trust your convictions, and speak your mind. These are advanced building blocks for developing your executive presence. The intangible asset that will expedite an increase in your influence and authority is confidence. The most successful professionals exude this characteristic in every communication. So what does that mean for you? Learning to develop powerful presentation and communication techniques will instantly raise your communication value. You can achieve that in five steps.

  1. Track Your Performance

Compile a complete list of all your current interactions (i.e., departmental meetings and presentations). Then describe your specific role in each interaction, the extent of attendee input, number of attendees, and their levels within the organization. Evaluating these details and aligning your message with the critical needs of your audience is only the beginning. However, this step will set the foundation for strengthening your communication skills. Individuals with a high level of career intelligence understand the significance of tailoring their message to their audience. Another component of this improvement plan is to rate the level of difficulty of each interaction to determine how to prioritize the ones that need more preparation.

  1. Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience is absolutely critical improving your communication skills. Most professionals will experience significant stress when they speak because of the increased nervousness and self-doubt when communicating with executives. The level of detail and time spent expressing your views will vary tremendously depending on who is in the meeting. Will your boss be there? Maybe your boss’s boss or even the CFO is attending. Most executives require a clear and concise analysis that articulates the problem and the best approach you recommend to resolve it.

I had a very important meeting with my CFO where I needed to explain an upcoming complex accounting change and its impact on the company. I was very concerned about how my communication skills would influence his behavior. As I prepared for this meeting, I kept thinking about the CFO’s main concerns and what was important to him. I expected to have 30 minutes to cover my material, but I was given only five. Discussing the material at a high level was my only option. I didn’t discuss the detail of the debits and credits. He appreciated this approach, and I increased his level of trust in my technical expertise.

  1. Articulate Your Message

Focus on the message and proceed with the end in mind. Specifically, ask yourself what action you want your audience to take. Do you need them to provide an ultimate decision to move a project forward? Or to provide more analysis and support because of lack of clarity on progress to date? Spending too much time on the background or irrelevant information may limit your communication effectiveness and damage your credibility.

The best tried-and-true technique is to get to the point. Maintain focus during your preparation and delivery, and address only the few items that are critical to the discussion. Your ability to reduce rambling about irrelevant information will enhance your value to future management meetings. I recall presenting at a Disclosure Committee meeting where I had a handful of important issues to discuss. As the meeting began, my original time allotment was reduced significantly, and I had to alter my presentation. I began by communicating my main action requests. I received approval for certain items and only was queried by the CFO and vice president of finance on a subset of my material to explain further.

  1. Practice Makes Perfect

Take personal responsibility for your communication skills training. No one will care more about your personal and professional development than you. Therefore, seek every opportunity to gain experience presenting to your team, department, and other leaders in your organization. Join or create internal work groups to address specific and timely issues facing your organization. If these options aren’t immediately available to you, then join and be an active contributor to organizations that have communication skills building opportunities. If you’re already an expert in this area, I suggest seeking a career coach or joining a private coaching group focused specifically on advanced business presentations. These valuable resources can add velocity to the momentum you’re building to increase your communication skills effectiveness, elevate your personal authority, and get your next promotion faster.

Over the course of my career, I’ve identified a personal weakness in my public speaking ability and turned it into a strategic asset. I attribute my success to being an active member of Toastmasters, a nonprofit that helps its members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. I’ve given more than 60 speeches through the organization.

  1. Get Feedback Often

To improve your communication skills you need to obtain immediate feedback in your high-profile encounters. Most people believe they successfully get their message across, resulting in immediate action by others, but this often isn’t the case. Most interactions are left unfulfilled with your coworkers not understanding your message or instructions for next steps. Our views of our own performance often are substantially different from those of others involved in the meeting, so it’s good to request feedback after every meeting. You should get a 360-degree view as frequently as possible because each attendee might interpret your message(s) differently depending on his or her level in the organization.

Time is also a crucial factor. The earlier you become aware of gaps in or misunderstandings of your message, the faster you can remedy them. You might have heard the sales saying that “a confused buyer takes no action.” This saying can be tweaked to “a confused colleague takes no action.” This is a recipe for disaster if your project success depends on your colleague’s involvement and input.

I’ve implemented my own upward feedback review, which I provide to my staff to help me better understand how effective my communication skills are. With this feedback, I’m able to better focus on specific tactics to improve how I motivate and mentor my staff in order to improve overall department performance.

Final Tips

As a special bonus, an insider tip that can prevent irreparable damage to your professional credibility is to read, reread, and then read again all of your e-mails. To improve your communication skills eliminate wordiness, unnecessary biases, and any potentially damaging tones. I can’t reiterate this critical piece of advice enough. You must take personal responsibility for communicating professionally.

I once had a high-level executive call me shortly after I sent him an e-mail. He apologized for mistakenly forwarding my e-mail to other employees. If I had sent the original version of my e-mail, I would’ve been embarrassed because the tone wasn’t appropriate to achieving increased collaboration. Luckily for me, and I have adopted this approach in all of my e-mails, is to always, always, always ask myself if this e-mail message is something I’d be comfortable seeing on the front page of a newspaper.

Jerry Ratigan, CMA, CPA, is SVP Finance / Chief Accounting Officer at MoneyOnMobile, Inc. and is a confidence-building architect for experienced managers. He has led the creation of two IMA chapters and is a member of IMA’s Speaker’s Bureau. You can contact him at geraldratigan@gmail.comFor me on twitter @JerryRatigan