Communication Skills of Leaders

I have had the honor of attending my first Microsoft conference, TechEd, and watch the inventor of ASP.NET and the head of the team I work for, Scott Guthrie, speak. He is consistently rated one of the top speakers at the convention and is an influential leader in the world of web technologies.

Foremost of importance in what a key leader such as Scott should follow is an awareness of perception. In marketing they say “perception is reality” conveying the concept that it doesn’t matter what is real, just what other people think is real. It is of vital importance for Scott’s position that he come off as a “no shit” guy who knows what he’s talking about.

Another point that people make about what makes Scott a great leader is that makes use of empathy. He makes you feel like he understands your situation and where you are coming from. He makes people feel like talking to him is a more personal thing, a conversation that he’s actually interested in, not just entertaining.

This indicates his ability to be a good listener and that he applies the listening process. Scott listens, first hearing what the person is saying by being attentive, and then establishes understanding by responding with first paraphrasing the question and then remembering it later when he can make application of the discussion in later portions of his presentation. This is one of the most key factors I believe in what makes him the favorite speaker time and time again. People in the audience don’t feel like he’s speaking at them, but rather to them, and that, although they are one in a crowd of nearly 2,000 attendees listening, he understands each and every one of them. Quite the fantastic feat!

A part of Scott being a great communicator and leader that I have observed is his application of listening responses. Most often at work people are presenting to Scott, the reverse of is presenting at conferences. I have often heard him use prompting and then “precision” questioning to hammer out the clear story, and then paraphrases what he’s heard and understood.

[Side note: Once, I saw Scott try to explain his idea to a co-worker and she never validated that she had heard and understood him. I found it interesting that he seemed to start repeating himself, which is common for people that don’t feel like they have been validated. I suppose this highlights a point where he could improve by noting the reason why he started repeating what he had said and instead just asking her if she understood it, while she needn’t agree with the idea.]

Lastly it is essential for a leader to be able to prevent defensiveness as a reaction in others, especially because they are the ones who normally are the ones who have to deliver often difficult messages. While Scott isn’t necessarily aware of the clear message format he uses it effectively. When people hear tough stuff from him, they are able to take it constructively because of his presentation of the message.