If you can't communicate, you can't lead


Being able to communicate is a critical driver of a leader success. I would say it’s THE most important skill a leader can have.

Creating a following, building trust, engaging stakeholders, driving engagement, delivering results: all needs effective communication. The ability to listen and enlist support through direction setting is crucial.

Leaders that invest time and energy in building their communication capability get ahead and deliver better results.

Communication activates a workforce and ensures leaders can rally support for their vision and business plan.

Over 300,000 bosses, peers and teams were asked which skills have the greatest impact on a leader’s success (HBR 2014). And it’s clear that communication is fundamental. The below chart puts weight to the fact that if you can’t communicate, then you really can’t lead a team let alone an organisation. 

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Five years ago, I worked with a senior executive that spent thousands of dollars developing an amazing business strategy, only to keep it hidden in the drawer, gathering dust. He was horrified when I suggested we provide it to leaders to drive conversations with employees and customers. He was terrified that employees would know where the business was heading commercially or worse that they would tell customers or competitors.

It is ironic that this was the very thing employees needed to know to get involved and make the strategy a success. How can they innovate, change and create if they don’t know the plan? Consequently, the entire workforce didn’t know the business or their future. This resulted in lower employee engagement, confusion and insecurity.

'Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess', Richard Branson

Leaders that get communication right are more likely to succeed and activate employee support for strategic priorities.

Leaders need to balance the art of telling and asking. Consider the scenarios below and the impacts an imbalance can create. Inactivity, passivity and confusion are consequences of poor leadership communication that drive down engagement, effort and results.

Like conducting an orchestra, leaders need to ensure employees know the plan and how to make their contribution. They need to constantly reinforce the beat, listen for alignment and create conditions for success.

Balanced communication, that has the right amount of asking (involvement) and telling (direction) ensures employees play the right notes, perform well and stick with the band.

Paul Matthews

Communication leader and Coach with over 20 years experience. Specialising in developing and delivering communication strategies in large or complex organisations.