Leadership is often thought of as an interpersonal skill reserved for managers – individuals who have the title that says they can influence other people.

But leadership is an impactful interpersonal skill for anyone on a team, whether they hold a formal management position or not.

While leadership might be traditionally defined as the act of guiding or directing a group, most of us lead by example all of the time. The way you behave and communicate on a daily basis shapes the norms for your team – the unwritten rules for how you all interact. For example, if you offer a bit of praise to someone in a team meeting, you might inspire other people to follow suit.

That means leadership communication skills aren’t just something you need to possess and refine once you land a position of power. Honing them now can benefit you and your entire team. 

What are the most important leadership communication skills?

You probably know a great leader when you see one, yet leadership itself can feel pretty amorphous. Does it take charisma? Delegation? Creativity? Integrity? Decisiveness? Focus?

Probably all of the above. But when it comes to exhibiting leadership on your team – regardless of your role and seniority – it all comes back to effective interpersonal communication. 

Almost without exception, every good leader is also a skilled communicator. They’re able to convey their thoughts, opinions, and ideas clearly and concisely with other people. Here are the most crucial leadership communication skills, as well as how you can build each one, regardless of your role. 

Authenticity and transparency

“Celebrate what’s real”: Dara Treseder on authenticity in leadership

Successful communication requires trust, and you can’t have trust without authenticity. When you’re the most genuine and honest version of yourself, it’s easier for other people to relate to you and connect with you on a deeper level.

How to demonstrate authenticity: 

  • Willingly admit when you don’t have an answer (try saying something like, “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I’ll find it for you”).
  • Ask thoughtful questions about topics you don’t understand and then actively listen to the answers.
  • Be honest and transparent, not only about your wins, but also your challenges, frustrations, and failures.

Giving and receiving feedback

Whether a team member wants your input on a slide deck or you’ve been asked to give some constructive remarks to your supervisor, knowing how to handle feedback – both providing it and accepting it – is crucial to effective leadership. 

How to provide feedback: 

  • When offering constructive criticism, start by stating your good intentions. Research shows it helps people hear your remarks without assuming malicious intent.
  • Before providing feedback, ask the person if they’re willing to hear it. You can avoid bombarding people and offer your insights when they’re in a headspace to accept them. 

How to accept feedback: 

  • Ask questions to dig into the feedback being shared with you. You don’t have to take it at face value – you can ask for clarity – but try to avoid getting defensive.
  • Summarize the feedback that was shared with you to confirm your understanding. It’s an active listening technique that works especially well for feedback. 

Handling difficult conversations

Communication isn’t always easy – there will inevitably be conflict to navigate and tough discussions to be had. And how you handle those nail-biter conversations says a lot more about your leadership and communication skills than how you handle the straightforward and lighthearted ones. 

How to handle tough conversations: 

  • Psychologists recommend avoiding language that assigns blame. Rather than saying, “You make me feel…” try, “When you do X, I feel Y” to show that your feeling follows their action, but isn’t necessarily caused by it. 
  • If emotions start running too high, ask to take a break so everybody can return with a cooler head.
  • Give the other person an opportunity to prepare. That won’t always be possible (like when an employee is being terminated). But in instances where you can give the other person a heads up about a difficult conversation, do so. You’ll both be more likely to show up to the conversation in the right headspace. 


Adaptive leadership: principles and a framework for the future

Skilled leaders and communicators don’t just know their message – they understand how to tweak and tailor it to best suit the audience they’re speaking to (while still maintaining that authenticity we mentioned) so they can share their perspective in the most impactful way. 

How to adapt your message:

  • Know your audience. Specifically, know what they need out of the conversation so you can deliver accordingly. For example, another team leader might only need the high-level details while your team needs the nitty-gritty. 

Remember that leadership and communication go hand-in-hand – and the above skills and tips can help you do both well. 

How to communicate like a leader