Sunday, November 10, 2013

Leadership and Communication

I recently attended our District 6 Table Topics contest for Toastmasters. Table Topics is the part of our program where we practice our impromptu speaking skills. Generally, a Table Topics Master will ask a question, and then pick someone to answer the question. The chosen person then has one to two minutes to respond, off-the-cuff. 

In a contest, all the contestants are taken out of the room, then brought in one at a time. They all answer the same question. Judges then determine the best response to the question.

In this contest, the question was "There are many leadership skills. Which do you think are key, and why do you think they are so important?" While I have certainly had some time to think about this question, and I am not speaking off-the-cuff, I have some thoughts.

When I first heard the question, my immediate thought went to a session I attended where Stephen Covey was presenting. He stated that the most important leadership skill that a leader must master was communication. Thinking about that now, I would agree one hundred percent. The next question becomes, what kinds of things must leaders communicate? 

First, we must be able to communicate our vision. Sometimes we think that we can share the vision, and everyone will go forward and make it happen. I have found that this is not the case. We must communicate our vision over and over, and at every opportunity.

Next, we must communicate our goals, and action plans for achieving them. We must constantly give effective feedback as to whether we are getting closer to our goals or if we are just floundering. We must be ready to communicate change when course corrections are needed. 

Finally, we must be able to communicate praise and encouragement when appropriate. One of my favorite definitions of leadership comes from Stephen Covey's, The 8th Habit. He defines leadership as "communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly, that they come to see it in themselves."

These just scratch the surface of the need for leaders to communicate. Think of any leadership skill, delegation, team building, or motivation, and there is some level of communication needed to be successful at any of them.

Communication is a very important skill to master, both verbal and written. Struggling with communication can inhibit your ability to master other important skills.  Mastering this one aspect of leadership will help you to enhance every skill in your leadership arsenal. 

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