Leadership is, at its heart, all about practicing great communication. Developing those communication skills is key to any leader’s long term success. Many leaders may try to compensate for a lack of communication skills by micro-managing team members, or stepping in and taking over work that isn’t part of their job, but this is unsustainable. It’s impossible for one person to keep track of, much less execute, all the responsibilities of an entire team.

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Great communicators, on the other hand, can more effectively leverage the skill-sets of every individual subordinate, and take a big picture approach that allows them to set goals and develop a greater vision for their team as a whole. Doing this effectively relies on just a few specific communication skills.

1. Learn to ask the right kinds of questions

Good leaders ask purposeful and useful questions. Asking a team member how things are going, or how a specific project is coming along is unlikely to elicit a useful response. Instead, ask targeted questions that empower employees, make them think, and that provide actionable information. Some examples of great questions might be…

“What do you want the client to know about their project?”

“What has your experience been like working with this client?”

“How do you think we could do this better?”

These types of questions aren’t about gathering some information or “checking in”, they’re about accessing a team member’s experience and expertise to help inform your own leadership decisions. Getting this kind of feedback from your team can help you build a better picture of how your team is doing, and how your past decisions have impacted your team’s performance.

2. Resist providing immediate answers

Being constantly bombarded with inquiries and questions is part of being in a leadership position. The pressure to have all the answers ready is intense, but it’s important to resist trying to resolve every inquiry right away if you’re not sure of your answer. Correcting a mistake is much more difficult than doing research and making inquiries before responding. Because of this, good leaders need to get very comfortable with telling people “I don’t know”, and “Let me get back to you.”

Taking the time to ensure that the information you provide is accurate, and the opinions you offer are well-founded makes you more reliable as a leader and helps you to build trust with your team and your clients.

3. Be direct without being confrontational

Inexperienced leaders often try to communicate indirectly to avoid coming off as aggressive, or they get very confrontational to try to keep things moving forward. Both of these styles tend to erode employee morale and interfere with your team’s personal growth and improvement.

Great leaders, on the other hand, communicate very clearly and directly without becoming confrontational or resorting to aggressive tactics. This keeps morale stable, and gives people a sense of security while still providing the leadership they need to succeed. These types of leaders set very unambiguous expectations for employees, and offer constant constructive feedback. To keep feedback constructive, they focus on what to do in the future, rather than picking apart exactly what may have gone wrong in the past. As a result, team members get the tools and information they need to improve without being made to feel threatened or insecure.

4. Listening skills

Leaders make decisions for their team, but they don’t need to rely entirely on their own knowledge and intuition to do that. Good leaders use all the resources available to them, and that means taking the time to listen. Talk to subordinates individually, and elicit their opinions about individual projects, clients, your team, and your own personal performance. By gathering and taking careful note of your team’s opinions and ideas, you’ll be able to develop a more coherent and complete picture that you can use to make better supported and more informed decisions.

5. Read between the lines

Being direct and honest with people in authority over you is stressful and legitimately risky. Because of this, it’s important to understand and respect that your own subordinates will generally not communicate as directly with you as you do with them. Establishing good two-way communication, then, means developing the ability to read between the lines to glean indirect feedback about your own leadership performance.

In the long term, good communication is a critical part of any business’ long term development and success. It makes it easier for both employees and managers to develop their individual skills while learning to work together with clients and co-workers more effectively. Developing these communication skills well gives leaders the ability to lead more effectively while also empowering and making better use of their subordinates. As a result clients will be better served and better able to build a strong trust relationship with your brand and your team.