Seven Essential Ingredients for Leadership

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Vogel says he developed his writing skills in a college class that required a 10-page paper weekly and honed his verbal skills during the years he spent teaching at the University of Chicago and Columbia University. "There are three ways to increase one's communication skills: practice, practice and more practice," says Vogel. Luftglass concurs, suggesting that managers find opportunities for staffers to gain that experience.

"The more practice one has in public speaking, the easier it becomes," she says. "The best thing a manager can do to help others improve their communication skills is to provide opportunities for presentations in front of an audience to build confidence and skills."

Just speaking may not be enough, however. "Practice is useless without feedback," says Vogel. But don't count on getting it from your staff, he says, adding, "Who wants to tell their boss that they can't understand what he's saying?"

He lists several ways managers and their staffs can get both practice and feedback: joining the Toastmasters International club, giving presentations to small groups of customers or to peers at conferences, and taking a course or seminar that requires giving written and oral presentations critiqued by the instructor or other students.

To improve writing skills, ask a colleague to critique memos before they are sent, or submit articles for publication. Through the combination of practice, feedback and more practice, the skill can eventually be developed.

"Visibly successful CIOs make presentations at national conferences, write for magazines and journals, and are quoted in the press," says Vogel, "and they have executive leaders, direct reports and staff who understand where the organization is going and how they plan to get there."

Why It's Crucial: Communication

Skilled communicators aren't just engaging orators. They are often the people with open ears attuned to their group's needs.

"The first key in being a good communicator is being a good listener," says Karen Hopkins, a principal at The Hopkins Group. "Develop the patience to really listen, hear other points of view and formulate a thoughtful response." This skill can then be integrated into public presentations.

"Communication is about getting your point across, about understanding your audience, about listening for feedback and about confirming that not only have you been heard, but that you have been understood," says Lynn H. Vogel, CIO at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Robb is a Computerworld contributing writer.

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