There can be no denying that the greatest business leaders share many common ingredients. However, there is one that is most visible and audible to us all: great leaders are all exceptional communicators. They have the ability to convey a resonant message and engage deeply with their audience consistently. Our early communication is often a learned behavior taught to us by people around us, such as parents and siblings. Yet, we have also learned how to communicate through our work experiences with coworkers, bosses, and other leaders and role models.

All of the great leaders I have worked with almost appear to have a sixth sense when it comes to communicating. They can focus on what others may say and how they do things and interpret the received message almost instantaneously.

I call these individuals “Communication Adaptors.” They have the ability in the blink of an eye to adapt their style, pace, or tone to vary the message based not on their message but on the person or group with whom they are communicating with. When I’ve worked with communication adaptors, it was almost certain that they had less awkward or less confrontational experiences and dialogue. This was because they utilized their communication skills with their recipient in mind.

By adopting this approach, the recipient will more likely respond positively to the leader’s personal message as it had been delivered more effectively I have also worked with some really poor communicators. I call them “Communication Velociraptors.” They are merely dinosaurs in the communication age—their style and impact are so poor that you could call them extinct!  It’s not communicating—it’s merely broadcasting.

How to be an adaptor, not a raptor:

Get on their agenda – There is an old saying, “give to receive.” The philosophy behind this phrase assumes that by communicating openly and giving a clear message of respect to others’ agendas, you will receive a more productive reaction in whatever you do.

Be crystal clear – Avoid ambiguity. It’s important to consider that this is not all about telling. This is about articulating, sharing, and explaining with clarity: what, how, when, and what outcome you may be expecting; this should be delivered with conviction and sincerity in an effective clear way.

Two-way or the highway – Communication has to be two-way, i.e., one person sending a message and the other responding. Otherwise, it’s not communicating—it’s cascading. I understand that busy people have to get the message out timely and efficiently. If you don’t get a response, how can you be sure you have actually communicated?

Keep it interactive – You must keep communication flowing in various ways and ensure people are listening with an alert ear at all times. Make sure you adapt your approach so that your message is most impactful and relevant to others.

Look and listen – Great leaders have perfected the art of observing communication in the unspoken word, body language, idiosyncrasies, and behaviors. Many communication models suggest that over half of what you communicate face to face is nonverbal.

Check it out – How do you know if what you have attempted to communicate has been received in the exact way you intended? Ask. A big frustration shared by many leaders is feeling like you haven’t gotten your message across. A faux pas is also not validating or taking the time to confirm what you have been heard.  It also provides a great source of future excuses as to why things didn’t get done.

So don’t be a raptor—be an adaptor. The more you adapt your communication and the more effective communicator you become, you may be surprised to meet less awkward people on your leadership journey!


Steve Rush is a Solutions 21 affiliate leadership expert and CEO of Improov Consulting whose career spans global multimillion-dollar firms. Steve became a coach and business consultant to other executives to pass on his learning, studies, and leadership lessons. With Improov Consulting (based in the United Kingdom), he coaches, trains, and supports leaders from junior levels to international CEOs of global organizations. Steve is the author of “Leadership Cake,” which combines his expertise and leadership lessons into a fresh perspective on leadership success. He also created and hosts The Leadership Hacker Podcast, one of the top podcasts for leadership globally.