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11 communication skills every leader should have

July 21, 2022 - 10 min read

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Why are communication skills so important?

4 ways to improve your communication skills

11 effective leadership communication skills

4 ways to highlight your leadership communications skills in a job application

There are few things worse than a manager who doesn’t communicate well. 

At best, it leads to confusion among the team — and at worst, it leads to high employee turnover and a toxic work environment.

Author and motivational speaker Marcus Buckingham once said, “People leave managers, not companies.” If you care about your team and are committed to being a great leader, prioritizing how you communicate with your colleagues matters. It will help your team members feel valued and perform their best.  

Here are 11 ways to improve your communication skills and motivate your employees.


Why are communication skills so important?

Workplace communication is integral to maintaining a positive team culture.

Effective leaders understand the nuances of office politics. They navigate every level of the organization and effectively communicate with everyone along the way. They help keep a positive vibe, encourage teamwork, and boost employee engagement.

Minor miscommunications can escalate to conflict if you’re not careful. And, if this happens between a business leader and an employee, it can have severe ripple effects. Other staff members grow resentful, the manager gets frustrated, and the workplace suffers. 

Excellent communication starts at the top. As a good leader, it’s your responsibility to set an example for your employees. Keep an open mind, practice empathy, and be transparent.

These tactics will build trust among your team, which will pay you back tenfold.

Here are five ways great communication skills will benefit you:

  1. You’ll see improved collaboration between your staff members and other teams
  2. Staff will feel safe coming to you with questions or concerns, so you’re always aware of what’s going on
  3. Employees will have a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities
  4. Your team will be more productive
  5. Everyone will remain focused on team goals and outcomes

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4 ways to improve your communication skills

Just like any skill, you can learn effective communication. But it requires self-awareness and practice. Here are some strategies to get you started:

1. Keep an open mind

No one is a perfect communicator. Once you accept this, you can open yourself to developing this skill.

2. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses

Review each communication-related skill and rank your effectiveness. This can be extremely humbling, but it will help you identify any areas needing improvement.

For instance, maybe you’re adept at communicating in meetings but less comfortable over chat programs.


3. Create a plan and track your progress

Be patient, systematic, and deliberate in practicing your new skills. It will feel good once you start seeing progress.

4. Be kind to yourself

Improving your communication skills is hard work, and your team might not respond right away. It’ll take time for them to adjust to the new you. Hold the path and trust that you’ll be better off in the long run.

Self-improvement can be difficult on your own. BetterUp can support you on your journey by asking you tough questions, helping you make a plan, and holding you accountable.

11 effective leadership communication skills

1. Be authentic

People value honesty and sincerity in their leaders. You’re a person with a unique personality and quirks and mannerisms backed by a lifetime of experience. Let your color shine through. People can tell whether you’re being yourself or letting a corporation speak through you.


2. Be visible

Communicate openness by keeping your office door open. This practice shows your staff that they can approach you if needed. And if you have to close your door, hang a note. Suggest people send you an email or come back at a specific time.

3. Listen

Listening skills are one of the most important parts of communication. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Use active listening. Pay attention to body language. Give people space to air their concerns.


4. Communicate often

Share information, thoughts, and ideas often and through many communication channels. No need to go overboard — no one wants a helicopter boss. But routine check-ins go a long way.

5. Encourage input

Who better to suggest improvements than the people doing the work? Ask for feedback and be ready for their answers — even if you don’t like them. If you’re doing this in a meeting, be comfortable with silence.

It may take some time before someone feels comfortable breaking the ice. Wait it out. Your employees will offer valuable feedback that can help you make informed decisions.

6. Share stories

Everyone makes mistakes, even you. So if you’re critiquing someone’s work, it helps to share an anecdote about a similar experience you had. That way, the person will understand that mistakes are a learning opportunity, not a personal failing. 

Storytelling shows staff that your investment in their professional success, and, most of all, it reminds people you’re human.

7. Walk the walk

If you promise to look into something, do it. If you’re asking staff to try new things, make sure you’re right there with them. You will quickly lose credibility if you say one thing and do another. People need to know you have their back.

8. Adapt your leadership style

Everyone has a different communication style. Some people prefer less hand-holding, while others enjoy consistent feedback. Get to know your staff and adapt your communication strategy to what works for them.


9. Use nonverbal communication tactics

Maintain eye contact, control your facial expressions, keep your body open, and watch your tone of voice when speaking. These nonverbal cues will build trust with the person to whom you're talking.

10. Be transparent

During routine meetings, update your team on what the company’s higher-ups are doing. Sharing details about the organization's goals, opportunities, and challenges do wonders for company culture.

Sharing the obvious bottom-line guiding your decision-making processes will keep everyone on the same page.

11. Ask open-ended questions

Use phrases like, “Tell me more,” “Define that concept for me,” and “Explain what you mean.” These types of open-ended questions encourage more thoughtful answers than direct questions.

4 ways to highlight your leadership communications skills in a job application

Employers are eager for candidates with leadership communication skills 

If you’re applying for a leadership position, flaunt your effective communication skills. Here’s how to highlight your aptitudes during the initial application throughout the process:

1. Add skills to your resume

Include details in the “skills” section of your resume or LinkedIn profile. Get specific. Create a subheading called “Communication skills” and use a bulleted list to describe your leadership communication skills.

2. Include them in your cover letter

Show, don’t tell. What better way to highlight your communication than by communicating? Write clearly, concisely, and professionally. Don’t forget to proofread for typos and grammar.

3. Bring it to the interview

Use your skills during the interview. How you answer and ask questions says a lot about how you like to communicate. Plus, you can share examples of how you’ve contributed to the workplace due to your leadership skills.

4. Consider a coach

At BetterUp, our coaches can help you nail your next job interview. We’ll run practice sessions, review your resume, and help you draft the perfect cover letter to help you land your dream job and be the best leader you can be.

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Published July 21, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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