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Leadership Communication Skills for High-Potentials: Training Effective Communicators in the Leadership Pipeline

November 15, 2022
By: Patrick Bosworth in the Communication category.

As the Center for Creative Leadership suggests, the most surefire way for a company to future-proof its leadership succession is to invest in high-potential leaders. Not to be confused with high-performers, high-potential employees are unique due to their adaptability and ability to influence their peers as leaders. Once these high-potential employees are identified for the leadership pipeline, it is crucial that they have access to a standardized training program that will hone their communication skills and maximize their contribution to the company’s success.

While communication skills fall under the broad umbrella of soft skills, there is undoubtedly a hard correlation between leaders’ ability to communicate effectively and a company’s bottom line. Poor communication within an organization can lead to more than just low morale, lost sales, and talent churn; an SHRM study found that poor communication to and between employees was responsible for a loss of $63.4 million per year among a sample of 400 large enterprises. Especially as companies look to grow and scale their impact, a tried and tested communication training model will pay dividends as operations grow both horizontally and vertically.

Eight Essential Leadership Communication Skills

Harvard Business School has identified the following eight sets of communication skills as imperative for effective enterprise leaders to master:

  1. Adaptability: Successful leaders can select from a variety of communication styles the best approach to influence a team and achieve organizational goals.
  2. Active Listening: By understanding when and how to listen, leaders gain a deeper understanding of their team’s motivators, pain points, and feedback.
  3. Transparency: Transparency is a two-way street best fostered by leaders. Openly communicating both needs and challenges is essential for long-term success in any project or team.
  4. Clarity: Simply put, avoiding confusion saves resources. By training leaders to be precise in defining expectations, teams can work with greater synergy.
  5. Open-Ended Questions: By asking open-ended questions, leaders can elicit more thoughtful, revealing feedback from team members or clients.
  6. Empathy: Among the traits of effective leaders, empathy perhaps deserves the most attention in the modern workplace. According to a study by Businessolver, 96% of employees in the survey listed empathy as a desirable employer trait, yet 92% thought it was undervalued.
  7. Body Language: Over 90% of communication is conveyed non-verbally, through gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice. The modern workplace includes more contemporary forms of non-verbal communication—such as email signatures, emojis, or workspace setup.
  8. Feedback: Leaders are not only responsible for establishing feedback loops, but also for making sure feedback is implemented or taken into account. Demonstrating that feedback is valued will build trust and transparency within a team.

Tailored Programs Support Leadership Differently Throughout the Pipeline

Not all high-potential leaders will have (or require) the same leadership communication training. Depending on where high-potential employees are in the leadership pipeline—from an emerging leader to a senior manager—training that targets the communication skills needed at specific management levels will not only feel more relevant to trainees but also save enterprise resources.

While a leadership training program’s design will be informed by factors such as enterprise size, age, and values, another approach suggests providing broader leadership training to new talent with leadership potential while saving hyper-specific training for established leaders further along in the pipeline. This approach supports new leadership retention by communicating to them both their potential and the opportunity to progress in multiple directions while leaving their career path open within the company.

Download our Leadership Guide to Emotional Intelligence