Communication - The Key To Leadership Success

Communication - A Key To Leadership Success

Communication will be a key factor in determining your success as a leader.  Understanding your communication style, developing as an empathetic listener, effectively accepting constructive feedback and capitalizing on the strengths of your presentation style could make all the difference for you as a leader.

Communication Style

Do you like to communicate with lots of data?  Or with gut feelings?  Do you like to speak step-by-step?  Or do you jump right to the end? 

You have a particular style of communicating.  Many leaders are unaware of their communication style, including its strengths and weaknesses.  Without knowing your communication style, you cannot compare it to the styles of others.

Do you know the upsides and potential downsides of your particular style?

Over the past two decades of research, my team and I have found that there are four fundamental communication styles:

  • Analytical - you like hard data, real numbers, and you tend to be suspicious of people who aren’t in command of the facts and data

  • Intuitive - you like the big picture, you avoid getting bogged down in details, and you cut right to the chase

  • Functional - you like process, detail, timelines and well-thought-out plans

  • Personal - you value emotional language and connection, and use that as your mode of discovering what others are really thinking

It’s common to attempt ranking the styles, but no communication style is inherently better than another.  Instead, matching a particular communication style with an audience is an effective means for communication successfully.  

Picking the wrong style for a particular audience, whether it’s one person or a thousand, shuts down listening.  This can easily result in trouble.  

Learning to build flexibility around your preferred style allows others to more successfully hear the important things you need to communicate.

Learn more about your communication style, with a free communication styles assessment to assess your preferred style.

Listening Skills

Listening with Empathy

Imagine if people had zero empathy; if we couldn’t understand others’ perspectives. What kind of world would that be? Terrible, right?

Well, there are troubling signs that, in fact, the world is currently suffering from a major deficit of empathy; that we’re losing (or have lost) the ability and willingness to truly empathize with others. And that’s why demonstrating empathy when listening to others is so important.

If you want to succeed in leadership, empathy is a critical skill.

If you want to sell more, listening with empathy can help.

Leaders with great listening skills have more inspired and engaged employees.

Imagine that you have a friend that works at a company that is going through a very tough financial situation and layoffs. It’s very stressful for them. You have a conversation with them and your friend says: “I’m probably going to get an ulcer from all this stress.”

You reply: “You know what? I find that enduring these kinds of really tough situations can be great chances for us to grow.”

Is your response empathic or not empathic?

This is an actual question from the online quiz “Do You Listen With Empathy?” And after analyzing several thousand responses we know that currently, more than 40% of people think that the above response is empathic. But unfortunately, they’re wrong; this response is Not Empathic.

If we can refine and advance our own empathy, and specifically our ability to list with empathy, we might just be able to make the world, and our workplaces, dramatically better!

Take the ‘Do You Know How To Listen With Empathy’ assessment.

Constructive Criticism

We’re all going to receive constructive criticism at some point. No matter how much you try, it cannot be avoided.  Typically, the bigger your goals and achievements, the more constructive criticism you’ll receive.  So the big question is “how will I react to constructive criticism?”  Instead of asking how do I avoid criticism, ask "what’s my style of grappling with that criticism so I can learn and grow?”

Of course, some people don’t ever grapple with constructive criticism.  Common responses include:

  • Blaming others
  • Throwing a fit
  • Burying one’s head in the sand

People with these types of responses will often have major problems in their careers and lives.  Through their actions, they reject the principle that constructive criticism is a fantastic source of insight.

Choosing to process constructive criticism allows you to take advantage of these insights, providing for a positive impact on your career and life.

There are four ways in which people react and process constructive criticism:

  • Personally - When you get criticized, one of your first thoughts is, “Why did this person just criticize me?”

  • Analytically - When you get criticized, one of your first thoughts is “Does this criticism make sense?”
  • Systematically - When you get criticized, one of your first thoughts is “I need to figure out exactly what went wrong.”

  • Skip to solutions - When you get criticized, one of your first thoughts is “OK, now tell me how to fix this.”

Like communications style, none of these reaction styles is really better than another.  Just because someone handles constructive criticism more analytically, it doesn’t mean they’re better.  In fact, being too analytical can occasionally irritate the person who provided the criticism.

Understanding how you personally reaction to constructive criticism is important.  Knowing some of the strengths and weaknesses associated with your personal style is also important.

If you want to assess your own reactions to constructive criticism, you can take this free quiz.

Presentation Style

Presentation styles have many parallels with communication styles.  However, because you have a particular communication style, this doesn’t mean your presentation style should always match it.  In fact, by understanding your own presentation style, you can more effectively choose when it is best to use it or whether to pick an alternate style.  Picking the wrong style for a particular audience can cause trouble for even the best presenter.

After years of research, my team and I have found there are four primary presentation styles: the Closer, the Data Scientist, the Director and the Storyteller.

You can discover your own style with the quiz What’s Your Presentation Style?

One of the traits that differentiates presenters is whether they like communicating with emotions or data. Some presenters make emotional connections with their audience, while others prefer to persuade through facts and analytics. Another characteristic that differentiates presenters is whether they stick to a structured presentation or they go off script and jump around.  You’ll note that these are also traits help determine your communication style.

There’s more to presentation styles than just these characteristics, but as a starting point, these differences are emblematic of the myriad ways we deliver presentations.

Here are descriptions of each of the four presentations styles (the Closer, the Data Scientist, the Director and the Storyteller). See which style you think resonates with you, and then take the presentation styles quiz to corroborate your intuition.

The Data Scientist

Some of the most innovative ideas in today’s world are powered by big data and analytics. The Data Scientist presentation style captures that wonderfully. Knowing that the business world is increasingly moving in an analytical direction, one of your biggest strengths is how you fill your presentations with data analysis.

While some presenters would rather tell a story and focus on narrative, you use data, analytics, facts, and figures to make your point and persuade your audience. Nobody will ever accuse you of giving a presentation filled with fluff. While some presenters can speak for an hour and say absolutely nothing, you will rarely, if ever, have that problem. Your presentations deliver hard data, information and analysis.

One potential downside to watch out for is facing an audience that doesn’t grasp or want all of your analytics. They’ll lose interest in what you’re saying perhaps because they want a presenter who connects with them emotionally or who gains their buy in by skipping right to the big finale. When you find yourself in this situation it will test your presentation skills. You’ll need to be able to assess what presentation style your audience prefers and know how to stretch outside of your Data Scientist comfort zone.

Faced with a world that increasingly loves analytics, having a Data Scientist presenter on the team can be a great benefit.

The Storyteller

Some of the most persuasive presentations in history have been engaging narratives and stories. As humans we are fundamentally emotional creatures and that’s why your Storyteller presentation style is so powerful. The Storyteller that can tap those emotions and weave a persuasive narrative typically delivers successful presentations.

Some presenters are much happier delivering dozens of slides with charts and graphs. But as a Storyteller, one of your greatest strengths is staying focused on making an emotional connection with your audience. An audience may not remember every single data point or statistic, but they will remember a great story or emotional connection. When an audience doesn’t connect with data, or they’re getting bored with too many slides, you’re able to skip all of that, feel their pain and get them connected to you.

One potential downside to watch out for is audiences that just want a factual answer to a simple question. Sometimes an audience isn’t quite ready to make an emotional connection to a presenter and, in those cases, you’ll be faced with a big decision. You’ll need to be able to assess what presentation style your audience prefers and know how to stretch outside of your Storyteller comfort zone.

In a world where emotion sells, and stories are so memorable, having a Storyteller presenter on board can be a big advantage.

The Closer

The Closer doesn’t mess around. Knowing the reputations of many type-A CEOs, the Closer can jump into a presentation, cut right to the chase, deliver the bottom line and skip all the boring stuff.

Some presenters are dedicated to outlines, slides, timelines, and scripts, but not you. As a Closer, you see the end goal and you go right for it. Why spend 60 minutes dragging your audience to a conclusion when you can get right to the point and be done in 15 minutes?

While patience isn’t necessarily your biggest virtue, distilling a presentation to its essence is. And that’s one of your greatest strengths. You can see the destination and get right to it. And as a result, your audiences will rarely, if ever, get bored or miss the central point.

One potential downside to watch out for is that, at some point, you may run into an audience that isn’t ready to move as quickly as you. And that may leave them feeling like your presentation style is too abrupt or harsh. Or that you’ve bounced around too much, leaving them feeling disoriented. You’ll need to be able to assess what presentation style your audience prefers and know how to stretch outside of your Closer comfort zone.

With today’s world of information overload, having a Closer who can distill a presentation to its essence can be a terrific asset.

The Director

The Director gives order to presentations. As a Director you like presentations to have a clear linear flow, with logically structured slide decks and clear transitions across topics and presenters. While some people are content to jump in front of a crowd and speak extemporaneously, you are much happier with an outline, slides, timelines, and scripts.

Sometimes a presentation misses the mark (perhaps running into a bored or distracted audience). And while some presentation styles (like the Closer or Storyteller) will happily trash the slide deck ad go ‘off-script’, you’re much more likely to stay the course and see it through.

This is one of the greatest strengths of the Director. You deliver ordered, logical and structurally sound presentations. It’s highly unlikely that you would walk into a presentation unprepared. And when you’re working on a team presentation, you’re typically the one to whom the others will turn to ensure that the slides, outlines, timelines and scripts are well executed.

One potential downside to watch out for is when the presentation you’ve so carefully prepared is a poor fit for your audience. Perhaps there was a last minute change in the attendance or some emergency sprung up. But regardless of why, you may someday face a test of whether you’re willing to scrap your thorough preparation and react on the fly. You’ll need to be able to assess what presentation style your audience prefers and know how to stretch outside of your Director comfort zone.

Ultimately, with today’s complex and complicated presentations and teams, having a Director on board can be a great asset.

If you haven’t already, discover your own style with the quiz What’s Your Presentation Style?


So, to what extent is communication having an impact on your leadership?  The key is to understand your own particular styles, along with related strengths and weaknesses, and to leverage these to relay the ideas and information to your audience effectively. As I mentioned previously, one style, whether it be communication style, responding to constructive criticism or presentation style, isn’t better than another.