Everything stems from communication, the foundation upon which all aspects of leadership are built. The ability to communicate well can help to inspire, motivate, enrich, empower and energise.
Oftentimes, effective communication can be conflated with complex communication – the more nuanced the message, the more sophisticated the messenger. In actual fact, the most effective communication is often the most simple communication.
To illustrate, let’s take a look at two examples from historic speeches that show the power of clear communication:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” – John F. Kennedy (Inauguration Address, 1961)
“… whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill (1940)
These extracts show two of history’s most gifted orators getting their message across simply and directly which, in both cases, had the desired effect of inspiring a nation and instilling belief within their respective peoples.
They also imply the responsibility and duty we all have towards our communities and countries. It’s impressive how much meaning, so layered and rich, can exist within just a few simple words.
Context is key
As is usually the case, context is important when it comes to judging the importance and effectiveness of possessing a particular quality. Recently, Malaysian football star Mohd Faiz Subri landed FIFA’s prestigious Puskas Award, having scored the wonder goal of all wonder goals.
Related post: Celebrate Your ‘Knuckleball Goal’ Moments And Fight On!
Following his award speech, the footballer, sadly, received criticism for his poor command of the English language. Despite the fact that he came out on top of an impressive field to win a coveted award, the attention from some people shifted from his spectacular achievement to focusing on his speaking skills.
The standard of English among Malaysian footballers is perhaps a debate for another day; however, clearly in this context, it is less important to possess effective communication skills than in other situations. Having said that, I did wonder, when reading about the unfair criticism aimed at Faiz, how his critics would fare on the football field… we all have our strengths.
Looking beyond the trivial, there are of course times when effective communication is vital with regard to conveying a message. In fact, it can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Crystal clear communication
In discussing examples of awful language usage, Harvard psychology Professor Steve Pinker demonstrated just how important it is to be able to communicate clearly. In an example describing warnings that once came with portable generators and combustion heaters, Pinker highlighted one such warning that read:
“Mild exposure to CO can result in accumulated damage over time. Extreme exposure to CO may rapidly be fatal without producing significant warning symptoms.”
Every year, many Americans were effectively turning their homes “into gas chambers”, unaware of the significance of the warning. Thankfully, the number of casualties from this problem plummeted after the warning was changed to read:
“Using a generator indoors CAN KILL YOU IN MINUTES.”
Remember to K.I.S.S
Loquacious communicators with a proclivity towards ostentatious expression, driven by a desire to display their cerebral pyrotechnics, might sound clever. However, their message is invariably buried in their attempts to sound impressive.
As leaders, we should be focusing on delivering an impressive message, rather than aiming to show off in the hope of being impressive ourselves.
People are always drawn to messages that they can relate to and easily digest. Whatever you think of his politics, (former) President Barack Obama demonstrated this to great effect with his “Yes We Can!” message during his first presidential campaign.
His successor, Donald Trump, arguably owes some of his success to a similar strategy of clear communication. His “Make America Great Again” slogan is as simple as it is powerful.
Regardless of each leader’s politics, we can see the effectiveness of their simple, clear communication in action, and it’s this approach that all leaders should look to embrace if they wish to truly inspire, empower and engage their followers.
Generally speaking, effective communication implies openness and transparency. It also provides us with a sense that those who are communicating the message are in control of what they’re doing, understand what they want to achieve, and are able to lead us in a direction that will help us to achieve our shared goals and ambitions.
Roshan Thiran is the CEO of Leaderonomics – a social enterprise working to transform lives through leadership development and nurturing potential. Connect with Roshan on Facebook for more insights into business, personal development, and leadership. For more Be A Leader articles, click here. To reach Roshan via email, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org