The Three Levels of Leadership – Scouller Leadership Blog » The Eleven Key Leadership Communication Skills

The Eleven Key Leadership Communication Skills

Great leadership skills and communication skills go together.  You simply can’t be an effective leader if you don’t communicate well.  So if you want to be the best leader you can be, you’ll almost certainly have to polish your leadership skills – which includes working on how you communicate.

The trouble is, the term “communication skills” is too vague to be useful.  So what does it mean?

It refers to a collection of abilities that – together – allow you to connect with, understand and influence people around you.  What are these abilities?  I believe these are the eleven key leadership communication skills:

(1) Clean Listening: Concentrated “clean” listening to the other person’s words and the intent and feelings behind them.  Of the many communication skills, this is probably the most important of them all.  It’s one that rests on four foundations:

  • The first is your ability to centre your attention on the speaker and only the speaker.
  • The second is not letting your inner dialogue distract you – which means, for example, not figuring out what you’re going to say next or wondering what you’d like for lunch.
  • The third is taking in the person’s body language and tone of voice (the way they are saying what they are saying) so you can receive the underlying emotional “call” in the message.
  • The fourth is not distorting the other person’s message by superimposing your beliefs, values or prejudgements.

(2) Empathy:  Being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and sense what they’re feeling.

(3) Self-Awareness: Being aware of your own feelings and body sensations and what they may be telling you during the communication. This, by the way, is a leadership skill that’s fundamental to your growth as a leader, not just your ability to communicate.

(4) Questioning:  Asking open questions that don’t trigger unintended defensive reactions.

(5) Giving Feedback:  Giving effective feedback, that is.  One of the most difficult communication skills of all and crucial if you are to engage honestly and effectively without avoiding important issues.

(6) Receiving Feedback:  Responding openly and non-defensively to others’ opinions and feedback to you; accepting that the other person’s feelings and way of looking at a situation may not be the same as yours.

(7) Testing Assumptions:  Identifying and testing your assumptions about the other person’s meaning or intent.  This is essential because we so often project previous experiences and interpretations on to the other person without realising it, which means we can misunderstand their intent or message.

(8) Intent:  Knowing your intent and the result you want at the start and throughout the discussion.  It enables you to stay focused and flexible, adapting to the discussion as it unfolds without forgetting why you’re there.

(9) Pausing:  Being able, under pressure, to create a gap between what someone says to you and your reaction to it.  You see, there is a difference between responding and blindly reacting.  Being mindful enough to be able to pause, recall your intent and decide your response mid-flow is one sign of a master communicator.

(10) Persuasiveness:  Creating and putting forward a persuasive case that appeals intellectually and emotionally to the person or people in front of you.

(11) Writing & Public Speaking:  One of the most high-profile leadership communication skills, it’s about being able to project your message effectively to many people at the same time.  The word “effectively” means that they understand and believe what you are saying – and want to act on it if it’s a call to action.  This demands not just a persuasive message; it demands that YOU are credible and genuine.  Now of course this is partly a matter of the “inner you”, your character.  But at the level of communication skill, it must show in your choice of words and how you say them in front of an audience.


1015962 High Res Cropped - reducedThe author of this blog is James Scouller, an executive coach.  His book, The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Knowhow and Skill, was published by Management Books 2000 in May 2011.  You can learn more about it at  If you want to see its reviews, click here: leadership book reviews.  If you want to know where to buy it, click HERE.

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