Starting a new job can be rejuvenating and inspiring. But just like a new penny, the shiny can go dull if not polished on a regular basis. As a leader, you need to continue to “fill the well” of your employees, engaging them and giving them reasons to stay (or not). According to an article from Inc., you have to find a growth path for your great employees. Give them opportunities to learn and do new things so they can grow their leadership abilities. Because if they can’t grow, they die a little every day. And eventually they leave.

Recently on our blog, we’ve focused on recruitment and onboarding. We’ve covered the high cost of recruiting and onboarding the right person, only to see him or her walk out the door sooner than expected. In this article, we’ll focus on how to keep that great new hire. And a key piece of that is growing their leadership abilities, including communication skills, regardless of what position they hold.

Growing leadership, not management

The best explanation we’ve heard regarding the difference between leaders and managers is that leaders have people who want to follow them while managers have people who simply work for them. In truth, a good leader is also a good manager. And a leader can be anyone within an organization, not just those in the C-suite.

While we won’t go too deep on the definition of leadership, we’d like to explore the distinct types of leaders, as this helps frame this conversation. According to research, leaders who get the best results don’t rely on just one leadership style. Rather, they use most of the styles in any given week. This article outlines the many types of styles. Different business situations require specific styles and switching among these leadership styles can produce powerful results.

  • Authoritative leaders rally people toward a vision.
  • Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony.
  • Democratic leaders build consensus through participation.
  • Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction.
  • Coaching leaders develop people for the future.

Also, it’s important to recognize that what makes someone successful in one organization doesn’t automatically translate into another one. In an article in Forbes, writer Glenn Llopis discusses some common pitfalls when a great leader in one organization moves to a different one. Common missteps include not respecting a new industry, not taking the time to learn the business history, and not being authentic and open with others.

Getting off on the right foot

To support retention and growth of key employees, start off on the right foot on day 1. Your onboarding program, which we discussed in a previous blogpost, is a big part of that. Unfortunately, we find that many organizations focus far too little on the employee onboarding. And, in some cases, there’s no onboarding whatsoever. This is mind-boggling considering the hard costs of high employee turnover.

As part of the onboarding, you should create a strategy to grow your new team member. One approach to consider is the 70:20:10 Model, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership.

  • 70% from challenging assignments Real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem-solving.
  • 20% from developmental relationships – Feedback and working with and observing role models (we think this is where good executive coaching can make a difference too, whether done in-house or by an outside professional).
  • 10% from courses and training – Formal development and reading.

This simple approach suggests that a single focus on formal training is not adequate to develop leadership abilities. Instead, the model shows that successful leadership development combines formal training, developmental relationships and learning experiences.

It’s no surprise that the leadership skills we develop are primarily from the school of hard knocks. Some of the world’s greatest leaders were not formally “schooled” in leadership. Rather, they grew their leadership abilities through adversity, crisis and, in many cases, true grit. Think of Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela and Howard Schultz.

But the 70:20:10 Model shouldn’t be the only tool in your leadership development arsenal. And don’t get too hung up on the specific ratios. In general, the model serves as a good reminder that employees are learning all the time. They can and should! And as we’ve discussed previously, learning through failure should be a part of this.

Growing communication skills

Nearly all good qualities in a leader—authenticity, setting expectations and more—rely on another important quality. Being a good communicator is one of the six characteristics of an effective leader that we previously identified.

IronStrike has counseled many organizations in leadership communications. Many companies simply overlook the importance of growing leadership communication skills. And yet, it doesn’t have to be difficult to learn and hone. Business author Brian Tracy says, “Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.

So how can having great communication skills improve leaders and their organizations? Strong communicators:

Clearly articulate expectations: Good communicators don’t speak in muddy terms. They present clear and crisp expectations. Studies show employees perform better and feel better about their work and their employer when this happens. Win-win!

Sell vision: Like setting clear expectations, good communicators can effectively sell an idea or plan. And when employees are on the same page with the vision of an organization, all boats rise. And often sales!

Motivate others: Good communication to and within teams is like what blood is to a body. When circulating well, it nourishes. Good communicators often inspire and motivate employees. They help teams jump hurdles that otherwise might not be possible. This builds resiliency in others, and resilient organizations.

Create trust: If a leader is open and authentic in his or her communications, when tough times hit, the leader will also get more benefit of the doubt. Why? Because they’ve been honest and open in the past and have proven themselves trustworthy.

Of course, communications is not just verbal. It’s also the non-verbals. More than 50 percent of communication is conveyed through body language. So, having the right words is only half the equation. Become conscious of your body language and ensure that what you’re saying matches your nonverbal cues.

Action items for growing leaders’ communication skills

So how can employees and rising leaders become better communicators? At IronStrike, we’re big proponents of teaching people how to fish. Here are a few helpful tips as you prepare to cast your net.

Share your key messaging map, which helps leaders identify key points they want to communicate to a specific individual or a group.

Share timely and relevant communications best practices through case studies and articles, as this helps employees see how other leaders and organizations benefit from strong communications.

Highlight internal best practices, as showing what other leaders are doing in communications can help spur momentum in other areas of the business.

Offer access to a coach, because working one-on-one with an expert can quickly speed up the process.


Growing employees’ leadership skills takes time and intention. Done well, it can support a business’ overall retention efforts. One key aspect of leadership development is improving how they communicate throughout the organization. If you want to grow your own leadership communications skills or someone on your team, give us a call.