Communication Skills for Managers and Effective Leadership


June 07, 2022 - Julian Mayhew

The personal attributes of modern business leaders are much discussed. Particularly as they are considered the linchpin of commercial success.

The best way to differentiate between managers and leaders is probably this. Managers orchestrate the completion of tasks and make sure they are done successfully. Leaders orchestrate their teams, influencing, motivating and supporting THEM to be successful.

Managers rely heavily on good communication abilities. However – as this article will show – communication skills are vital if you want to be an effective and authentic business leader. Communicating measurably well is the ONLY way to share knowledge, and motivate, unify and support teams in all the ways that matter.

No room for complacency

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place". - George Bernard Shaw.

Technology offers many new ways to transmit messages and stimulate actions. However, that can't be allowed to lull you into complacency. Even if you do use a diverse raft of business communication methods to disseminate information to staff, customers and suppliers - and hold regular virtual or physical meetings – you can fail to communicate.

When did you last evaluate how much of what you say is being listened to, and understood? Good communications are what people hear and respond to – not just what is said.

The Economist did a survey of 'Communication barriers in the Modern Workplace', which questioned a large cross-section of employees. Among its findings was that 52% of respondents felt poor communications were creating high-stress levels. 44% believed poor communications had caused them to fail in completing projects.

That suggests that a large proportion of the workforce may feel in the dark and unable to do their jobs effectively, simply because their managers don't communicate well enough.

The rest of this article looks at the things you need to focus on, to achieve effective communications, and therefore effective leadership.

Group around a table talking

Use all channels, in a purposeful way

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." - Plato

The underlying principle of good communication is to create a conscious and purposeful strategy. One that is applied equally and consistently. In other words – have a plan and stick to it!

That needs some research and consideration. Not least as different audiences will have different communications needs and preferences.

For instance, there will be people in your sphere of influence who need immediate information and instruction. Systems must be in place to support intuitive and responsive messaging. This could well be phone calls, meetings or the use of messaging apps.

On other occasions, you are sending out information that informs, influences or demands action of a less immediate kind. For those occasions, emails and reports may be more appropriate, especially if detail and a measurable response are required. "Email me back when you've read this and to tell me what you think."

Knowing when to use which type of communication channel is important. So is avoiding over-communicating of course and bombarding your team with so much information they become overwhelmed and word blind!

Incidentally, oversharing personal and commercially sensitive information does not bring you closer to your staff. It can make them feel uncomfortable or even distrustful of your control and discretion. They also start to ignore the gems of important information in all the chit-chat or complex business data you disperse.

Your verbal and non-verbal strategy needs to encompass:

  • Who needs to know what?
  • When?
  • Which channels work best?
  • How can I measure levels of understanding and response?

Multi-way communications

Forget 'two-way' communications. Your strategy must also include establishing and maintaining fluid multi-way communications. Get information flowing:

  • Upwards
  • Downwards
  • Across teams
  • Outwards to key targets

To work, this means investing time in individualising your communications too, rather than relying solely on team or group messaging for everything.

Gathering business intelligence

Multi-way communications will enable you to stimulate and collate vital business intelligence.

How can you know what's going on in your team or with your customers, if you don't listen? Good constructive listening involves asking the right questions and providing a strong stimulus to elicit honest feedback.

Your aim as an effective leader should be to open up communications with all parts of your sphere of influence, in a way that is consistent and responsive. Your staff team in particular needs to know that they can talk to you, and what your expectations are when it comes to feedback and reporting.

This is the way to ensure they:

  • Raise problems swiftly
  • Make constructive suggestions
  • Have the confidence to innovate and use their initiative
  • Discuss obstacles and issues with you

If you are a good and open communicator, staff are more likely to listen to you. As well as to respond in a positive way. Including when you need to step in to correct someone's course, or achieve conflict resolution, for example. Why should they listen to you in those situations, if you have previously not demonstrated respect for their individual opinions and ideas?

The same principles apply to your customers, suppliers and of course your colleagues. Regularly checking in with them is not simply a 'nice thing to do'. It is a brilliant way of gathering business intelligence. What's working and what isn't? How can things be done better and what do they need from you?

Purposefully opening up fluid communications is a superb investment of your time.

Demonstrating emotional intelligence

One of the most defining qualities of successful business leaders is their emotional intelligence. Knowing their own personal strengths and challenges – and taking steps to address them. As well as recognising the individuality of their team members; and providing personalised support.

The word often applied is empathy.

Emotionally intelligent communications are when you craft spoken or nonverbal messages in an empathetic and holistic way. For example, wrapping bad news in solutions and forward-looking plans, or giving your audience ample opportunity to ask questions to allay fears or confusion.

It can be as basic as using people's names in spoken and written communications and putting in small details that make them feel you are talking directly to THEM.

Group around a table talking

Motivating and showing appreciation

"You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life." - Zig Ziglar

This links to emotional intelligence and true leadership. It doesn't take much effort to include words that motivate people into a message about a required action. It can be as fundamental as revealing the end goal, rather than simply issuing instructions with no context.

Do you know what two of the most powerful words in business communications are? 'Thank you.'

Yes really. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and lack of reward and recognition is one of the most common reasons for changing jobs. Ensure your communications include a show of genuine appreciation, as well as words to inspire and motivate individual and team effort.

Share your vision and empower positivity

Reference has already been made to the importance of context. It is amazing how much more willing people are if they know WHY they are doing things. Context and end goals can be especially important in times of change and stress when you need to lift morale.

For instance, expecting higher levels of productivity to meet tight deadlines becomes more realistic if your team have been given reasons why this additional effort and commitment are required. And told how grateful you are!

A positive corporate culture starts with YOU

The core of any strong corporate culture is the behaviour of the organisation's leaders. Are you demonstrating equality and diversity, emotional intelligence and personalised empowerment?

That includes how you communicate – such as sharing your vision and individual project goals. Central to this is NOT communicating blame or shame when things go wrong; only constructive messaging to show the way forwards.

Passive communications

"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." - Peter Drucker

Most of the above involve active (and purposeful) communications, especially choosing your methods and words with care. However, studies have shown that as much as 93% of our understanding and response come from nonverbal communication.

The things we see – not what we hear or read.

This does not just involve the importance of body language in business leadership. Such as using your own nonverbal gestures, and positive posture for example. It also involves evaluating the non-spoken responses in a room, or 'reading between the lines' in written communications.

Also, you need to be strategic in your passive communications too. For example, if you are asking your team to do a problematic or unpleasant task, get involved, show them how, and be a role model, not just an instructor or boss.

One of the best business quotes ever is: "Tell me, I forget; show me, I remember; involve me, I understand."

Communication excellence for remote and hybrid teams

Your purposeful, contextual and emotional intelligent communications strategy needs to take into account modern work patterns. Communicating with remote and hybrid staff in a meaningful way takes extra effort, including taking special interest in whether the information has been understood.

You certainly need to know body language skills for remote communications.

Remote working can be especially isolating and create additional friction and disunity in teams. It is up to you to stay ahead of those trends with a purposeful and empowering communications strategy.

Communications skills training

Of course, the key to much of the above is having strong communication skills as a leader. It is hard to be meaningful, clear and motivational if you're lacking in confidence or experience!

Perhaps the best advice for success in business leadership is to invest in proven communications training.