Recently, I was in a meeting with a general manager of a hotel. It was a rather large facility with a small conference center. The facility had restaurants, meeting rooms, and of course, hotel rooms and suites, so there was a lot to manage.
The sales manager introduced me to the general manager because she felt that the facility was lacking some basic human resources processes and programs. As a result, the three of us sat down, and the gentleman said, “Well, Ed, I think we could use some training. Why don’t you give me a quote on doing some training here?”
I said, “Whoa, let’s take a step back. Why do you believe you need training?”
He went on to tell me about all the experiences he’s had through his 40-year hospitality career, all the brands he’d worked for, and the sizes of organizations and departments he had managed.
All that was fine, except— he didn’t answer my question as to what his problems actually were.
He was so quick to jump in that there were several times when he cut me off in discussion to answer a question prior to my even asking it. It was clear to me that he already had his replies set and that this was his management style.
One item we discussed was compensation. What scared me was that he believed in giving across-the-board raises to people regardless of their current pay. He believed that if he didn’t do this, people would leave.
I tried to explain that that’s not what studies show actually happens, and that when we do mass raises, where everyone gets the same increase, it actually demotivates the workforce.
He said, “Yeah, but people will leave if I don’t, and I need bodies here.”
I share this story because as a leader, it was clear to me that he felt he knew everything. But even more damaging: He wasn’t willing to sit back and entertain ideas of how things could be if he tried something different that was perhaps out of his comfort zone.
To me, that’s a critical flaw in the skill set of a leader. It all circled back to either his lack of desire or his inability to truly listen and hear some of the ideas I was trying to convey to him.
There’s no shortage of thoughts on what the top leadership skills are in today’s business environment. If you asked various folks for their opinions on the top five leadership skills, you might get some in common, but you’d likely hear different things, too.
I want to talk about the one leadership skill that I think supersedes all others. You can’t get the other skills right if you don’t get this one right.
What is this skill? Communication.
When I think about everything that falls under the communication umbrella, I think of active listening, the ability to tell stories as a way to create buy-in and share our vision among followers, nonverbal communication skills and how we present ourselves to others or in front of large groups. Certainly, our presentation and public speaking skills come into play here.
There are many key skills rolled up into the big communication umbrella, and that’s why I believe it’s the No. 1 skill we need to develop as leaders.
I read a powerful quote the other day by Stephen Covey. He said that most people don’t listen with intent to understand— they listen with intent to reply.
That resonated with me deeply. I would ask readers to think about how often they’re in a meeting or listening to a significant other while already crafting a response versus truly listening to understand the information that’s being conveyed.
As leaders, if we can truly listen with intent to understand rather than to reply, we make better-informed decisions. If our brains are in reply mode, we’re missing out on facts that might be pertinent to our decision. We might jump the gun with our reply and go off in the wrong direction.
So, when I think about communication as the big umbrella of a leader’s skill set, I know some readers will say, “No, Ed. It’s about being able to motivate followers,” or “It’s about delegating responsibilities,” or “You have to be able to keep things positive.” The list could go on and on.
But if you think about the examples I just mentioned, doesn’t a leader’s ability to do those things come back to their ability to communicate?
You can’t motivate your people if you can’t effectively communicate your vision and the strategy that has been developed to achieve that vision. You can’t effectively delegate projects and processes to your people if you can’t communicate the hows, the whys and the expectations of the work that’s being delegated.
That’s why, when you look back at some of history’s most influential leaders, whether nefarious or not, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who wasn’t also a great communicator.
In fact, if history shows us anything, it’s that someone can rise to a leadership position without perhaps the requisite resume just because they have effective communication skills. That’s how critical it is for a leader to be a good communicator.
I started out with Stephen Covey’s idea that we need to listen with the intent to understand. I’d like to close with a thought from John Maxwell: “Listening is the foundation for all leadership decisions.”
If we’re not listening and we’re making decisions, we’re acting more like dictators than leaders. How are you practicing effective communication as a leader in your organization?
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.