The Secret of Great Leaders: Learn to Communicate Well. 

September 10, 2010
Nashville Business Journal

What do the world’s best leaders consider their secret to success? Communication. There’s no limit to the number of skills a good leader must possess, but in order to become a truly effective leader you have to be really good at communicating with the people in your life. Here are some ways to develop communication skills:

Be a great conversationalist.
Engage in meaningful conversation at every possible opportunity. Be prepared with several good questions for every occasion. And when you ask questions be sure to listen carefully. You will gain respect when you listen more than you talk. Stay up on current events so you converse intelligently, but don’t allow yourself to get pulled in emotionally by discussions about religion, politics and gossip.

Prepare for business and social events.
Prior to attending any business or social event, learn all you can about the event and the participants. Prepare a list of key people you plan to meet and be prepared to engage each person in meaningful conversation. Also be prepared to move away politely from conversations that are not of interest. Leaders earn the respect of others with substantial and engaged discussions.

Say it in person.
When it comes to having a tough conversation, plan your thoughts carefully and handle it face to face. If you can’t meet in person, use the phone. Don’t try to resolve an important and/or difficult issue in a written letter or over email.

Sleep on it.
When your blood begins to boil over the content of an email or the tone of a conversation, take a deep breath, count to 10 and try to relax. An emotional response can get you in trouble quickly, so refrain from responding in the heat of the moment. Just sleep on it. Your response the following day, if you respond at all, will be more clear, rational and professional.

Write effectively.
With digital communication—text and email messaging—the norm these days, it is even more important to hone your written skills. From time to time in your leadership role you will also write business letters and prepare reports. Unfortunately there are situations where leaders can’t move above a certain level because of their inability to write (and therefore communicate) effectively. Don’t hesitate to enlist the aid of a friend to polish important written materials. And, as with any skill, practice is the key. The more you write the better you will write.

Speak in public.
If you are going to be a true leader you have to be able to speak effectively to the people you are leading. It’s your job to set the goals, explain the mission and then motivate your team to make it all happen. However for some, public speaking is terrifying. If you’re one of these people, tackle that fear. Start by planning ahead: Know your audience and materials; outline (general thoughts, not word for word) your speech; recite opening and closing lines; and then practice by speaking out loud or training with an audio/video recording. Once you’re more comfortable, speak frequently. Seize every opportunity to practice your new skill.

Remember, becoming a good communicator is a life-long journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. Work on honing your communication skills—interpersonal conversations, writing and public speaking—each day and you will build a foundation for becoming a stronger and more confident leader.


Joe Scarlett, joe@joescarlett.com
Retired Chairman of Tractor Supply Company
Founder of the Scarlett Leadership Institute

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