Soldiers need the right weapon when they go into battle; just like a successful CEO is going to need a honed ability to communicate in their toolkit.
I don’t know about you but I am in awe of great communicators. When I think of a great communicator I either think of great speakers, writers or artists (painters, singers, dancers). And when I say great – people who inspire, stir up the emotions or leave me with something to think about. My dream is to one day deliver a TedTalk like Sir Ken Robinson (Do schools kill creativity?), to write a book like Birdsong (by Sebastian Faulks), and to dance like Joaquin Cortes.
Most CEO communication may not be in the form of a dance, it may not always need to stir the emotions but I can tell you now if you don’t develop your communication skills to a high level, success will evade you.
Why is communication so important?
Research conducted by the Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that 15% of financial success comes from your knowledge or technical skills. 85% comes from your ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead effectively, both when speaking and listening.
Communication becomes more challenging as your company grows. When there are just a handful of you, communication flows in all directions easily and you all know what each other is doing. As you grow, you have to become that much more intentional to make sure your communication remains fluid and effective.
Here are 8 reasons why communication is so critical.
- Ideas: Many CEOs I meet are passionate about their ideas but they get super frustrated by their lack of adoption. Why don’t my team members jump onto my ideas with the reckless abandon I do? Poor communication is the likely answer. Coming up with ideas is easy, but getting others to embrace them is not. Great leaders visualise the journey idea through the eyes of others
- Clarity: So much productivity is lost through poor communication. Communication is not what you say or write, but it’s the meaning your audience takes from it. To prevent your team members running off in lots of pointlessly different directions, you need clarity of messaging
- Alignment: Companies and teams which succeed have a common purpose, and set of values and goals which they are working towards. For example, when your team member has an individual OKR or KPI they are working on and they can see the connection to the team’s and ultimately the company’s main goals, it’s more likely your strategy will be executed successfully.
- Inspire & Influence: A CEO can’t succeed without followers. How do they get followers? By inspiring them to act, to work above and beyond. Communication is the most impactful way to inspire. “Without good communication skills you won’t be able to convince people to follow you even though you see over the mountain and they don’t,” said the wise Warren Buffet
- Relationship Building: No productive relationships can be built without communication.
- Information: Communication needs to flow downwards, upwards and in all directions. You need to encourage communication throughout the company so that you don’t end up in isolation only getting fed information people think you need.
- Remote: Many companies have distributed workers now. The need for intentional and effective communications increases with a remote or hybrid workplace. Technology has enabled us to work successfully in these remote work environments. Great communication tools such as Slack and Zoom are very productive internal communications tools allowing us to work synchronously and asynchronously. But like with any tool, it’s how you use it that makes it effective or not.
- Costs: Bad communication adversely affects team member’s morale and engagement, it wastes time, it leads to more mistakes. The costs are too high for you not to start investing in your communication skills.
How do I know you can become a great communicator?
Because the quality of your communication is largely determined by this formula :
It’s a matter of how much knowledge you have (K), how much you practise (P) and how much inherent talent you have (T). Notice how small the T is. You can get a lot better than anyone who has natural talent if you have the right knowledge and practise in the right way.
So all of us have the capability to become more skilled communicators. But it takes intention and hard work.
7 ways a coach can help you become a master communicator
- Adopt a Communication Mindset. Become strategic about how you communicate. Every time you are delivering a message whether it is spoken or written, verbal or non-verbal reflect on your communications mindset. The foundations of your communications mindset should be the AIM framework as developed by L. Russel and M. Munter. Who is my audience (Audience), what is my intent (Intent) and what is my message (Message). This will encourage you to think strategically and empathically about your audience and what they need, to clarify your objectives and to reflect on what media asset you should use.
- Learn to Listen. In Stephen’s Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the key principles is seek first to understand, then to be understood. He rightly believes that communication is the most important skill in life, yet only 2% of us, according to Oscar Trimboli, the listening guru, have ever been trained to listen. I am one of those 2% who have been trained. I have a natural talent for it but I have had to work at it. If you want to interact with your team members more effectively, you first need to understand them. When you listen to understand, not to fix or to win the discussion, you are making a huge step towards effective communication.
- Build on Your Strengths. “Water your flowers and cut your weeds.” Good communication development includes doubling down on your strengths as well as learning new tools to add to your communication toolkit. Tailoring your communication to your existing skills and talents will be more efficient for you and more engaging for your audience.
- Iteration and Feedback. There is no perfect email or speech. But if you want to get better you need to keep taking risks with your communication. Be prepared to try new approaches, to make mistakes, to fail. But also you need to get feedback on whether your communication has been understood and is something your audience wants to receive. You need to listen to the feedback, to iterate and to try again. And then you need to keep raising the stakes. Your coach will act as an accountability partner on your journey to communication mastery.
- Authentic Communicator. Like with most areas of skill enhancement, effective communication starts with self-awareness. You need to know who you are, what you value, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what your inner voice says to you, what you fear, and the value you bring. Not so that you should reveal everything about yourself but so that you can be fully connected to yourself and communicate in an authentic way i.e. congruence between your inner self and how you communicate. Your team members will not follow you if you disguise who you are.
- Become a Storyteller. Humans are emotional creatures. Companies are made up of people and therefore they are emotional systems. If you want to influence people to action, data is the wrong tool box. Story is the language that influences the emotional system. Data is obviously important in business but if you want to create engagement and belief so people will act, tell a great story. If you are saying to yourself “I’m not a storyteller,” this will be a limiting belief. Stories are your brain’s operating system for making sense of the world. It’s a human capability that can be nurtured and improved whatever ‘stories’ you are telling yourself.
- Communicate Relentlessly. A top performing CEO recently told me his secret to great communication – he has a team of 4 helping him. His team helps him learn about the audience, figure out which is the most appropriate medium given the audience, create the message, get clarity on the objective of the communication as well as gather feedback on his communication to help him improve. Not all CEOs can afford a communications team of 4 but this should not stop you from communicating information, ideas, your vision and strategy, and your goals relentlessly. Frequency in different media should be one of your mantras.
Communication is incredibly important but not every CEO appreciates just how much. Here’s what Warren Buffet said to a graduate at Stanford about the importance of communicating well:
“Your results in life will be magnified if you can communicate them better. The only diploma I hang in my office is the communications diploma I got from Dale Carnegie in 1952.”
The good news is that it’s a skill you can better at. It’s my belief that you can’t overinvest in upskilling your communication skills.
My advice is get a coach who can guide you in CEO coaching and kick-start your journey to communication mastery. Best time to do that, yesterday and if not yesterday, tomorrow.
Founder and CEO Coach, Entrepreneur, Business Builder and Angel Investor
Mark is known for his scale up expertise having been part of multiple successful exits over the last 25 years as a founder, business builder, coach, mentor and investor.
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