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Leaders communicate, and communicators lead

4 min read


I’m lucky. Having been with a number of Fortune 500 companies, I’ve worked with some incredible leaders. They may not be names you know, but these are a special few who lead and communicate so well they bring people together to achieve amazing things.

Gretchen Rosswurm

From CEOs to supervisors and everything in between, these leaders have a few common communication habits that any of us can take to persuade, inform and encourage teams to be more successful. I’d like to share them with you.

  1. Share an inspiring vision of the future. Leaders who do this build a sense of shared purpose by painting a compelling vision of the future. They answer these questions: Where are we going, what does it look like, what are the benefits, what role do I play in the success? The differentiator is consistency. The best leaders know they need to paint this vision over and over. At every opportunity, they share the vision of what’s ahead. Eloquence isn’t a requirement. Have a clear picture of the end goal, be consistent in how you describe it and create opportunities to engage with the influencers who can make or break success.
  2. Listen. Real leadership requires listening. Leaders want to know what people think. They ask questions, create opportunities for dialogue. They make it OK for employees and stakeholders to share their candid opinions. They show compassion and humanity to make people feel heard. Listening with patience and attention will win respect.
  3. Commit to “no surprises.” Leaders who are successful over the long haul are honest. They demonstrate in word and deed that they are transparent about changes or vision. These leaders earn the respect of their teams and often their loyalty. For example, if a shared-services function may be relocated to another region, employees deserve to know probably sooner than later. As plans progress, employees should understand what their role may or may not be in the future; they need time to plan. Employees may not like everything you have to say, but they will respect you and perform when you communicate early and often.
  4. Widen the circle of involvement. Strong leaders start with a small group and, bit by bit, like water rippling in concentric circles, widen the circle of people who are aware of and involved in the vision. Leaders who continually engage and involve more people in the vision find that support grows organically and naturally. As you listen and engage with others, you will better understand the barriers and accelerators of success.
  5. Match your message with your audience. Not everyone is motivated the same way. Some embrace data; others rely on feelings and intuition. Some like visuals; some want to be told. A good leader uses all of these to create a message that resonates with more people. It shows respect for learning styles and diversity. This is as simple as using video to convey the message in a heartfelt manner and backing that up with data and charts that helps the left-brained employees. Let people talk in small groups, and use larger group meetings to inform a bigger audience. Use traditional media. Use social media.

In the end, there’s no magic formula for great communications. But I’ve seen time and again that the leaders who communicate using these methods are more effective than those who don’t. And I’ve seen very effective communicators become great leaders.

Gretchen Rosswurm is the director of global corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Celanese, a global chemical company in Dallas. Throughout her career, she has advised leaders on communication strategies to enhance employee engagement and improve business results. In her spare time, she enjoys watching her son play baseball and writing short fiction. Follow her on Twitter @GRosswurm.