A lot has been written over the past decade about the looming federal government leadership gap. As organizations grapple with how to bridge the gap, they often focus on things like how to attract Millennials and how to find future leaders with the right experience and technical skills. However, one factor that determines leadership success is often ignored or an afterthought. That is identifying future leaders who possess critical leadership communication skills.
Regardless of a leader’s technical field, agency, or education level, and despite the technological advances that give us so many more options to “distribute” our message, the ability to communicate effectively in a face-to-face situation can determine success or failure for a leader. If organizations aren’t taking a critical look at a future leader’s communication skills, they are putting the success of that leader—and the entire organization—at risk.
The following six communication skills are critical to every leader's success. If you are considering hiring or promoting someone to a leadership position in your organization, it’s important to ensure that the individual either has the following key skills, or that you have a development plan in place to help him or her acquire those skills quickly.
1. Intrapersonal Communication
This is the conversation we have with ourselves inside our own heads—the things we worry about, how we think through possible solutions to a problem, plan a conversation we'll have later in the day, criticize ourselves for a mistake we've made, praise ourselves for a job well done. Intrapersonal communication can increase self-confidence, give leaders the opportunity to practice challenging conversations or presentations, allow them to analyze and challenge their thought processes, provide emotional understanding and the first steps toward control, and can even help minimize procrastination.
2. Emotional Awareness and Control
In my years working both within government organizations and as a consultant, I have seen all kinds of bad behavior in leaders when it comes to expressing their feelings. I've seen employees buried under a mountain of profanity, sarcastic leaders who belittle others, and the opposite extreme—leaders who are too weak to express the seriousness of a situation and how they feel about it. Leaders who act out their emotions are destined to fail. Leaders who learn to communicate their emotions clearly while remaining in control of themselves will not only be more successful, but are perceived as more trustworthy and worthy of respect to those around them.
3. Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication is one-on-one communication between two people. This can occur face-to-face, on the phone, and in writing. It is essential that leaders develop strong interpersonal skills with their leaders, those they lead, customers, vendors, and citizens. Interpersonal communication includes skills such as empathy, listening, nonverbal communication, word choice, context, social awareness, self-management, and tailoring a message to the receiver.
4. Public Speaking
Even if a leader never has to give a formal, public presentation, a lack of public speaking skills can hinder his or her ability to conduct a meeting, present ideas to staff, and advocate for the department or organization to upper leadership. For those who do speak at public forums, it's even more critical that they receive formal training and practice to ensure they can communicate effectively and represent their organization in a positive and professional way.
5. Conflict Resolution
I've seen a lot of leaders in my day who create unnecessary conflict with themselves and employees as well as between employees. Most people don't look forward to conflict and see it as a negative. A leader with great conflict resolution skills sees conflict as an opportunity to get things out in the open and solve problems. However, it takes specific understanding of individual conflict styles, the conflict process, and how to hold discussions to reap the benefits of a positive outcome from a conflict situation.
6. Effective Coaching and Feedback
If your next generation of leaders' idea of feedback is the annual performance appraisal, you're in trouble. It's critical that leaders be able to effectively provide DAILY coaching and feedback to employees, peers, and supervisors. This includes redirecting poor performance, providing feedback to maintain good performance, and praise to reward excellent performance.
The bottom line is excellent communication is the most important key to any leader's success. If you want your organization to succeed after you've moved on and the next generation has taken over, you need to prepare them by helping them master these and other critical communication skills.
Amy Castro is a workplace communication expert, speaker, trainer, and author of The Performance Communication Blog as well as the book, “Practical Communication- 25 Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Getting Along and Getting Things Done.” You can find information about the workshops and programs she offers, at www.amy-castro.com/programs/.