The Art of Brilliant (and Effective) Communication in Leadership

In any leadership role – be it as a project manager, team leader, or specialist – effective communication is paramount. One intriguing challenge that leaders often face is the potential for misinterpretation when transitioning information. This misinterpretation can occur when a leader asks questions, receives responses, and then translates those responses differently from their original intent. The risk of this distortion can derail projects, confuse teams, and hinder progress.

To mitigate this, a deep awareness is required, an attention to what is being said, how it’s being said and the emotions and intent behind those words.

If we take, for example, a listening tour, where the CEO or leaders have a goal to learn listen and learn from teams, there is a sole intent to gather data, understand the perspectives of your team, and accurately interpret the information received.

Here are some steps to ensure clarity and alignment, incorporating the skill of clean language, avoiding any language that is leading, misinterpreted or phrased in your words rather than the team members. I describe this as murky and dirty language.

Consider the time of change or transformation, when stories are misunderstood and tension or discomfort occurs amongst your teams.

When you make the effort to listen and hear the other side of the story, your understanding increases and your hurt diminishes.  When you make the effort to listen and hear the other side of the story, your understanding increases and your hurt diminishes.

Thich Nhat Hanh           

1. Whole Listening and Note-Taking

Listening to the whole person, a deep listening and presence, is the first step. It’s possible to do this quick and with ease, by engaging fully with the person speaker, and asking clarifying questions. Summarise what you heard and ask if that is correct.

Before you do this however, I highly recommend that you centre yourself. By this I mean, checking in to ensure you are open to what you might hear, and remembering not to lead the conversation. 

This ensures that you capture the essence of what is being communicated without imposing your own biases or interpretations prematurely.

2. Utilise Clean Language

Clean language is a powerful skill and tool in ensuring that you understand the other person’s perspective accurately. It involves asking open-ended questions that encourage the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts without being influenced by your assumptions or judgments. Phrases like “Can you tell me more about…?”, and “What would you like to have happen?” help in clarifying and deepening understanding.

It does take practice, but as you practice, it can open up much clearer communication and understanding.

3. Synthesise Information in Small, Digestible Steps

Once you have gathered all the necessary information, the next step is to synthesise it. Find the key phrases and bunch those together – the same as you would with post-it notes. Include emotions and tacit things that you heard. In fact, by breaking down the information into shorter, manageable steps with keywords, it can help you piece the map together to create a clear and concise vision** that is easier to communicate and understand.

4. Create a Shared Vision**

Develop a vision based on these steps and keywords. This vision should be inclusive of the insights and feedback you have gathered. It serves as an awareness for the team, ensuring everyone is aligned and moving towards the same goal. Note that some of the information may come as a surprise, but do take this onboard as neutrally as you can.

5. Communicate Transparently and Inclusively

Share the information and the vision with your team. Transparency is key here—explain how you arrived at the conclusions and the steps involved. This openness fosters trust and encourages team members to be part of the journey ahead – an ownership and accountability of making the vision possible. 

6. Take People on the Journey

Leading is not just about directing; it’s about taking people on a journey. Involve your team in the process, encourage their input, and be open to feedback. This collaborative approach ensures that everyone feels valued and invested in the outcome.


The transition of information from one person to another is open for misinterpretation. By listening and starting your questions ‘cleanly’,  leaders can effectively navigate this challenge. In a world of outcomes and KPI’s, the learning and the experience, is what people will remember.

Three things that I do – particularly if you are a visual and forward-thinking person:

a) map out what you’ve heard by keywords. Use software, post-it notes, a whiteboard – whatever works for you. This becomes your working board and will help you distil your learnings.

b) tell a story of the vision – this is what you heard and this is what is possible.

c) share the small, tangible steps that mean something to the individual. Only sharing the vision may feel daunting for some.

A bonus tip – keep connecting in with the steps, journey and vision. It’s okay to evolve and shift, that’s what journeys are about.

Embarking on a listening tour with these principles in mind can transform how you lead, making your communication more effective and your leadership more impactful.

Want to experience clean language? Get in touch.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko, Unsplash

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