July 15th, 2022

Athena membership can help women leaders develop effective communication and other essential leadership skills. As you work to understand communication skills for leaders, it’s important to learn why effective communication is an integral part of leadership and the many ways leaders communicate.

Why Is Communication So Important for Leaders (Especially Women)?

In his book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (And How to Fix It), organizational psychologist Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic revealed that 65% of Americans would rather change their boss than get a raise. Poor organizational communication is the driver in many stressful workplace situations, leading to burnout and increased turnover. Effective leadership communication builds trust and inspires employees to work toward a common goal. 

Yet, it can be difficult for leaders to achieve effective communication, especially women leaders who face unconscious bias and an ongoing gender gap in leadership roles. The discussion surrounding how to get more women in the boardroom and C-suite roles often centers around the way women leaders are perceived. Women are more likely than men to face microaggressions that undermine their authority, such as being interrupted, questioned extraneously, or perceived as rude. Women of color experience these microaggressions at a much higher rate. By taking the following actions, leaders can demonstrate best practices in leadership communication and how to become more efficient leaders.

Become Your Biggest Advocate

Linda Babcock, author of Nice Girls Don’t Ask, revealed that men initiate salary negotiations four times as much as women do—and women ask for 30% less money than men do when they speak up. A person’s progress can be slowed by a negative self-image and the communication styles they use. You must be authoritative in your communication to advocate for yourself and reach your objective.

Our recent Salon The Top 5 Boardroom and C-Suite Communication Skills illustrated a simple way to advocate for yourself. “Commit to a number out loud,” Athena Coach Tissa Richards advised. “For example, if someone asks if you would be a good audit committee member, say ‘Yes, and here are three reasons why’.” 

Do Not Be Afraid to Be Seen

Women unconsciously adopt self-diminishing behavior that undermines their confidence and effectiveness as leaders (a topic that comes up time and time again in our coaches’ one-on-one executive coaching with Athena members). Body language is a critical part of confident leadership communication. When women use body language that makes them appear smaller (like hunching over or crossing arms and legs), they are perceived as less confident in what they are saying. Standing up while speaking will make women appear more authoritative and project their voice. Good posture is also a vital part of non-verbal communication that portrays authority.

In our recent Salon, Tissa shared a powerful reminder. “No matter where you are, don’t sell yourself. Your value is a fact. You deserve to be at the table, and internalizing that fact sets the tone for effective executive communication.”

Get Personal

All organizational communication should be a conversation instead of a monologue. In the past, leadership communication theories suggested leaders should stay at arm’s length. However, this gives employees the impression that leaders don’t care or aren’t trustworthy. If you don’t cultivate deep relationships with individuals, you’ll never know what’s on their minds until it’s too late. This could be a fatal flaw when employees aren’t satisfied or aren’t sharing ideas that could improve the organization. Whether it’s one-on-one or a conference with hundreds of people, dialogue will always be more productive if it’s more personal and engaging.

Be Specific

Time is the most important commodity of any individual. Overly complex and long conversations can become confusing or boring, causing others to tune you out. Without understanding the importance of clarity, it’s unlikely you will ever reach a deeper level of communication. By learning the value of brevity, you can practice productive communication that others will learn from, allowing you to get to the granular level required to be an effective leader.

As Tissa explained, “Make your answers as short as possible. In a conversation, people are trying to find the answer. They’re not listening to the actual content of what you’re saying. Reduce the cognitive load for them.”

Be Open-Minded

The single most significant restricting factor of new prospects is the rigidity of a closed mind. Open-mindedness allows you to hear what others say without trying to change their beliefs or thoughts. Diverse teams improve organizational performance by tackling discussions and problems from multiple viewpoints. Practicing open-mindedness and engaging in conversations with others who confront and challenge you can help you develop better leadership skills and learn new ideas through collaboration.

Be an Active Listener

Only by listening can a leader become a skilled communicator. Knowing when to be silent is one of the most important features of effective communication. Leaders should show that they care by seeking opinions and feedback. While women are credited for being more empathetic listeners, it can be difficult for women leaders to strike a balance between active listening and having a voice at the table. Leaders can engage in productive communication by avoiding distractions and actively listening to what others are saying without taking a back seat away from the action.

Tissa further explained in the Top 5 C Suite and Boardroom Communication Skills Salon, “Pausing is very important. Pause to show you have listened and are formulating your answer. Pausing gives you control and gives you time to think.” 

Know What You Are Talking About

While proper grammar and good vocabulary have a place in leadership communication, smooth talking will never compensate for inadequate knowledge. Before addressing your team, be confident that you know your subject matter well and are prepared for common questions that may arise. Good communicators pay attention to both the “what” and the “how” of communications. By taking the time to become a subject matter expert, you’ll add value and convey the confidence you need to inspire others. 

Effective communication is critical for successful leadership. Learn how Athena helps women leaders develop their communication and other executive skills as they rise to the top.



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