Communication and Leadership are terms that are tossed around so often that they lose meaning. “Good communication skills a must.” or “Must be a leader.” What do these things mean? There is a lot to be learned about doing both well. It is a continual process. While learning about communication tactics and the application of leadership techniques, the more insight I gain, and the more applicable it becomes to my professional and personal life. As the semester closes, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned.
First, nonverbal communication tells you more than verbal communication ever will. While working with a service-learning partner, I was excited to show them the marketing materials I had created. While they told me they liked them, their animated expression diminished and they shifted in their chair. Talk about mixed signals. It is important to pay attention to them because they often times divulge information that people aren’t willing to say for fear of backlash and creating tension. By addressing the subject with open-ended questions such as: “I think it can be better, what do you suggest?” You give the person you are working with more of an opening to say what they are really thinking.
This brings me to the second point. Conflict is not a bad thing. I don’t know why all people aren’t taught to look at conflict as constructive. Listen to an opinion before speaking and make sure you are considering it before denying its plausibility. I have found that even when I am the only person in the dyad or small group engaging in this process; it makes it much more difficult for the conflict to escalate into something harmful. Although conflict may be tense, it doesn’t need to stifle creativity. Instead, it can foster more ideas.
The third is that leadership is not innate. There is no genetic trait. Just like public speaking, you can improve. In seminars, people balk at the idea that a test can surmise your aptitudes and character. They are tools to be used and to grow from. By using them as a starting point, not an end, you can begin to develop traits that will allow you to lead in a way that it stylistic to your strengths.
As my first year concludes, I can’t help but think how unfortunate it is that people don’t give more consideration to the importance of communication and leadership. Every person has some degree of proficiency with these two disciplines, but they can be cultivated. Through all of the schooling that people complete, benchmarks are created in math and science, reading and geography. Preaching about the need for communication and leadership skill development is not my intention. In fact, I am reticent to explain their importance because as I continue to develop these skills and maneuver the complexities of both areas, I am happy that I will have the advantage of working through the best-kept secrets of their importance. In the future, it may be my greatest competitive advantage.