Skip to main content

To Lead Well, Speak Well

To Lead Well, Speak Well

Great managers can inspire, motivate and train employees, but they ultimately can't get the job done without solid verbal communication and public speaking skills.

"Since most communication today occurs on a verbal level, it is critical that people learn to speak clearly and convincingly," says Lenny Laskowski, an international professional speaker and president of LJL Seminars. "Everyone needs to learn how to communicate their ideas clearly and professionally. One who speaks clearly and confidently automatically commands respect. That's a quality that all great leaders possess."

The Importance of Good Communication Skills

According to Barbara Wulf, a personal and professional coach, unlike written communication, speaking gives the recipient a chance to react, respond or ponder. "Your spoken word can direct or challenge the receiver but can also bore or confuse the listener," she says. "Choosing the right words that reflect who you are is important so you will not sound canned or disingenuous. Likewise, the tone, inflection and pace of your spoken message can leave a lasting impact. Your spoken word has immediate impact on the listener unlike a written message that can be reread for clarity or interpretation."

Jim Tamm, vice president of Business Consultants Network, says communicating with employees is a manager's single best tool for setting a tone for that organization. Inauthentic, inconsistent or incompetent communications creates a "red zone" environment where employees lack confidence and trust in their leaders. In such environments, people are less trusting, open, creative and productive and more self-protective.

On the other hand, authentic communications create "green zone" environments where people are more trusting, open, honest and creative, because they are willing to take risks, Tamm says.

"Employees interpret messages through the lens of their own concerns and interests," says Tamm. "By speaking authentically, employees will have faith in what the manager is saying and will develop the belief that the manager treats them honestly and with respect. If the manager communicates defensively, for example, always wanting to be right, jumping to conclusions, trivializing with humor, etc., it will create a red zone environment where employees put their energy into protecting themselves rather than problem-solving."

Manager Communication Tips

When speaking to large groups of employees, remember that your tone of voice and body language are just as important as what's being said. When verbal and nonverbal signals are inconsistent, listeners will focus attention on nonverbal factors rather than your actual words, says Tamm.

Wulf says it's important for managers to remember that public speaking and verbal communication skills are just as important when speaking to one person as they are in small or large groups. Interpersonal communication is essential for a healthy workplace where employees feel valued, listened to and appreciated. An occasional walk around the cubicles to greet people, a monthly coffee chat with a department or a weekly meeting can show you are in touch with employees and give you visibility.

"The art of small talk is easier for some managers and might seem like a waste of time to others, yet the words, ‘good morning' or ‘how's it going today' just might help you keep a pulse on the members of your staff," says Wulf.

Laskowski agrees. "Don't spend all your time in your office," he says. "Get out and speak to your staff on a regular basis. Show interest in what they do."

Melanie Keveles, a professional coach and president of Aligned Advantage Business and Personal Coaching, recommends these tips:

  • Establish good eye contact with everyone.
  • Look for friendly eyes, and make contact with those people.
  • Don't be afraid to repeat yourself for emphasis.
  • Tell stories to get your point across. Examples will be remembered.
  • Practice your presentation in front of a mirror, or video or audiotape yourself to see what needs changing.

Education programs to fit your profession