Leadership communication skills

Should we be assessing leadership communication skills?

Communication skills are notoriously difficult to measure, given their “soft” nature. As a result, almost every job out on the market is asking for “excellent communication skills”, and you can be sure that many candidates are responding that they are amazing communicators. The only way to really tell during a job application process is how the candidates behave at in-person interviews or through their electronic communication.

There are definitely people out there who initially come across as great communicators, but are atrocious when it comes to real communication with real people, in real life situations.

So how does one measure communication skills? Everyone is asking for them, but it’s difficult to tell whether they exist or not and once somebody gets hired, the fact that they were so important in the first place is all but forgotten.

Leadership communication skills should be assessed as part of ongoing performance reviews

I’d argue that good communication skills are one of the most critical aspects of leadership. Many employees are suffering because of leaders who don’t communicate clearly, often paying the price of having to do additional unnecessary work or being made to feel stupid for misunderstandings.

In general, I don’t feel that organisations measure leadership communication skills as part of performance – they measure other aspects that they can see, but communication skills are often the root cause behind dysfunctional teams.

In a leader’s review, they might be assessed on failure to deliver something on time, but what is behind that? Was the team working effectively? Could something be done so that the leader is better prepared next time? Did the team understand what was required?

Below are some measures that I look out for when I’m trying to assess whether a leader is communicating effectively. Admittedly, some of them are still hard to measure – but an organisation should still be able to assess many of these aspects through peer, team and manager feedback during the course of a year.

Does the leader communicate clearly?

  • How many times do aspects of the work get missed by the team? This can be a sign that the team doesn’t understand the full scope of what they are meant to do, which may be due to miscommunication.
  • How many times do people need clarification when the leader communicates? Are there many emails sent back and forth clarifying issues? Does the leader always use electronic communication when in-person might be more effective? Does the team seem to understand exactly what is required of them?

Does the leader communicate continuously?

  • How often does the leader check in with their team? Failure to do so can see the team head in unexpected directions if they misunderstand something they are meant to be doing.
  • Are some things communicated while others are not? As a team member, if you are expecting to be informed about certain events, you’ll eventually come to feel that if you don’t hear anything, there mustn’t be anything going on.
  • Are there regular communication forums with the team or is it all ad-hoc? Are regular team meetings held at any point, and are they considered useful? Sometimes regular meetings can bring teams together, but only if they contain useful information and opportunities to raise concerns, suggestions or issues.
  • Does the leader meet with team members frequently as part of reviews? Or is this aspect of their job consigned to the scrap heap because they consider themselves to be too busy?

Is the leader personable?

  • How often do you hear about others having issues with the leader? Are they about work-related subjects and disagreement on issues, or more to do with how the leader behaves?
  • What is the general sentiment surrounding the leader? This should be considered from the team’s perspective as well as at a peer level. Often what a team says about their leader will be very different from what a peer leader would say about how they see things. Team members may feel they aren’t able to raise concerns, but a leader’s peers may be more forthcoming. This aspect can be fraught with danger because it may become a personality contest, but where there is smoke, there is fire.

Is the leader aware of what is happening within the team?

  • Does the leader know much about the relationships within the team? Are there people who don’t get along? Are there dysfunctional cliques within the team? Are any team members being ostracised?
  • How well does the leader know her team? Does the leader know much about the personality or mannerisms of the individuals in the team? What about their personal and home lives? Although the personal lives of team members can be thought of as “none of your business”, sometimes personal events can have a dramatic affect on how an individual functions in the workplace.

What if a leader has bad communication skills?

Poor leadership communication skills should be addressed like any other aspect of performance. If they are included as part of performance reviews, then they are likely to get more attention, because increases in pay, bonuses or promotions are going to be contingent on the review.

Often concrete metrics are chosen as part of reviews – on-time delivery, utilisation (in service provider land), delivering within budget, personal sales.

Leadership communication skills can be the source of an awful lot of angst, and you can bet that if a leader is suffering from them, there is likely to be:

  • Inefficiency
  • Low morale and lack of motivation
  • Mistakes and misunderstandings
  • Frustration

Flagging poor leadership communication skills in reviews can hopefully result in a degree of introspection from the leader, as they are forced to come to terms with how they are dealing with their teams and stakeholders.

Otherwise, what tends to happen is that the blame lands at the feet of the team, or simply the circumstances surrounding the work being done, rather than forcing the leader to look at their behaviour and the impact that it is having.

Let’s tackle one of the root causes of poor team performance and unhappy workplaces – add communication skills to your annual reviews.