Communication Skills for Leaders

I was interviewed by Karen Mangia for as part of the series called “Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions & Win in the Attention Economy.” This is third of four excerpts from that interview.


According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?


The first step to adapting your communication style is to have good “contextual intelligence.” Good leaders are good facilitators. They understand the context of the situation. A leader understands the limits of their knowledge and adapts that knowledge to an environment different from the one in which it was developed.

Do not lead with a cookie-cutter approach. You can’t treat all situations or people exactly the same.

It is important for leaders to develop contextual intelligence to deal with challenges. This is the ability to adapt to the current situation. We can never conceive of all the potential problems in any given situation. This means that one’s ability to adapt is truly an important key to being a great leader. Do your best to understand the landscape and adapt.

However, you cannot plan for every unexpected situation. Sometimes, “what cannot go wrong will go wrong” which means you need to have a plan in place to address surprises that might hit you along the way.


Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distracted world of work?


Communication is an important part of my book, The 3rd Paradigm. In order for it to be effective, the leader must have seven rules:

  1. Everyone speaks — we all have a unique perspective
  2.  Everyone respects
  3.  Everyone is patient
  4. Everyone is honest
  5. Everyone is transparent
  6. Everyone builds trust
  7. Everyone commits 100%

Whenever I was dealing with a crisis, I practiced what I call “communication saturation.” I would saturate the organization with all the information possible to show transparency and to make sure everyone was being informed.

Secondly, and this one is difficult — bring the “barking dogs” into the conversation. These are people who have opinions that you may or may not want to hear and they will be barking outside the room if you don’t let them into the room. It takes a strong leader to handle the barking dogs but that’s what it takes to have good communication.

Karen: We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired results and what you learned from the experience.

From The 3rd Paradigm, we found seven problems relating to working together as a team:

– Personality conflicts
– Dealing with egos
– Poor communication
– People who don’t pull their weight
– Lack of agreement on who makes the final decision
– Individuals hijacking the direction of the project
– Nonaligned vision for the project

The more prepared the leader can be to address these issues using their contextual intelligence and adaptive capacity — the more successful they will be.




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