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Strong Leaders are Committed Communicators

By Nancy Burger, Workplace Communications Strategist

In today’s ever-changing workplace environment, a leader’s ability to model strong communication skills is more important than ever. It can feel like a heavy lift, especially as leaders are called to navigate challenges associated with remote and hybrid teams, low employee engagement, and ongoing talent retention issues. But strong communication is even more critical during times of uncertainty.

Some of the issues that can get in the way of a leader’s ability to communicate effectively include:

  • Self-doubt

  • Communication knots within a team

  • Failing to actively listen

How do leaders communicate confidently when experiencing self-doubt?

Imposter syndrome may erode confidence, distracting a leader from recognizing the strengths that helped them achieve their position in the first place. According to London Business School professor of organizational behavior Dan Cable, it is the desire to hide shortcomings that gives many leaders imposter syndrome–especially if they have only recently been promoted and are feeling unsure.

In these situations, Cable says, confident vulnerability is an effective way to show humility as a leader while setting a good example for your team. Here are some tips for striking this balance:

  • Share your own personal development journey with your team

  • Demonstrate positive self-talk in the workplace

  • Acknowledge your own learning moments when they happen

By allowing your team to witness your learning process and growth in your leadership position, you set an example of humility, curiosity, and honest communication. You will also foster a culture of learning, so that team members are less afraid to make mistakes themselves.

How do leaders communicate effectively amidst controversy?

Subconsciously, we connect with people who share our values and opinions–a tendency known as affinity bias that leads us to favor ideas of like-minded individuals. While this can make us feel more secure, it can also limit our growth as a leader.

Demonstrating a preference for certain ideas, even if we are not aware we’re doing so, is likely to silence team members and make them afraid to challenge us–which will only undermine communication flow.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, executive coach and consultant Dina Smith writes, “When your team sees that you meet challenging comments with gratitude, you’ll encourage more fearful employees to also speak up.”

Try these tips to nurture innovation, growth, and collaboration:

  • Demonstrate curiosity

  • When giving feedback, say “yes, and” instead of “no,” “but,” or “however”

  • Speak least and last, so team members feel free to share ideas and/or disagree without fear of repercussion

  • Express appreciation for all contributions, even those you don’t agree with

How can leaders use active listening to foster healthy relationships among their team?

Employees want to feel safe, heard, and seen, now more than ever, and active listening is a critical element in that process that can foster open, honest interactions, build connective tissue, and facilitate problem-solving.

Active listening requires demonstrating to the speaker that you’re tuned in, interested, and undistracted. Here are a few tips for honing your skills:

  • Maintain eye contact and attentive posture

  • Resist interrupting or taking up too much space in the conversation

  • Repeat back some of what you hear

  • Ask clarifying questions

Practice Makes Possible

Former presidential speech writer James Humes said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Leaders must be willing to cultivate strong communication skills through consistent practice and must have the humility to recognize and resolve any missteps that may occur. Ultimately, it’s a leader's vulnerability, openness, and dedication to the learning process that will bolster their effectiveness and model commitment to their teams.

Nancy Burger is a TCV Trusted Resource for advising leaders on effective communication skills. Learn more about Nancy at her website


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