Communication Strategies for Great Leadership

Posted February 11, 2016 | By Tricia Hussung

Woman making a speech in front of colleagues

Good communication skills are crucial when it comes to success in the business world. When members of a company are able to work together effectively, chances are it stems from being able to communicate well. How employees within a company interact determines whether projects will run smoothly or be fraught with challenges.

This is where leadership comes in, and good leaders must also be excellent communicators. Because they interact with every team and a large number of employees, how a leader communicates sets the tone for the rest of the organization. Throughout history, the greatest leaders have also been motivators, able to encourage others to work toward a common goal. Think of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, arguably two of the most effective leaders in history. Though they approached challenges in different ways, both excelled at communication.

“When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and a true maxim, that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’”
–Abraham Lincoln

If you have experience in the modern workplace, you know that good communication makes business processes run smoothly. Despite having several different departments carrying out their own deliverables, successful organizations are able to ensure separate teams work together as a unit through clear communication. And in terms of service quality, the lines of communication must be open between a company and its customers. It is vital to interact frequently with clients in order to meet their needs and constantly improve services based on feedback.

Yet another area in which communication plays an important role is in internal relations. All organizations have a hierarchy in place, with executives at the top and employees existing in a set structure below. To create an inclusive atmosphere, companies should have good communication from the most important C-level position to more entry-level roles. Open lines of communication help to create a positive atmosphere, one that allows internal problems to be addressed with minimal fallout.

Qualities of Good Business Communication

So what makes for good communication? In the business world, it is all about getting your point across. “Good communication means the intended message you send is received by your audience without any distortions in meaning,” according to an article from Chron Small Business. Of course, this definition can apply just as easily to personal communication as it does to communication in a professional context. Clarity is the most important aspect of successful communication, because it helps “get the job done well, on time and on budget,” the article explains. “The boss or team member who can communicate objectives, reasoning and step-wise tasks in a concise and coherent manner contributes more to a company’s success that one who does not. These communicators are highly valued in today’s complex and competitive business world, and are often earmarked for promotion and increased responsibility.”

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
-Winston Churchill

Today, we can communicate with coworkers and leadership in more ways than ever before. In fact, what once may have taken a 30-minute phone conversation to relay can now be said instantly in a series of text messages. The ubiquity of modern communication has made it even more important to convey thoughts and ideas effectively. We have all experienced a miscommunication due to shades of meaning or tone that were lost due to digital communication. (There really should be a sarcasm font.) Good communication is simple and easy to understand, two traits that can be difficult to achieve. However, it is possible to hone and develop better communication skills through study. This is one of the key skill areas that are covered in most high-quality MBA programs, for example.

How to Communicate Effectively

Four Strategies for Success

Though there are many strategies for successful communication, all of them work toward a common goal: transparency. According to Forbes, statistics show that companies with happy, loyal staff share transparency as a common corporate principle. The ease of sharing knowledge and data ranks high with employees for job satisfaction; in fact, it’s “crucial to building trust in the workplace.” Employees at all levels perform better when companies have a distinct vision and a culture of straightforward communication. Leaders can achieve this in a variety of ways, from providing clear expectations for work quality to being open about pay grade. Just as it is important for businesses to be transparent with their customers about product quality and services rendered, employees seek the same kind of transparency from their employers. Fostering clear, accessible communication is one way that business leaders can create a culture of success.

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”
– Edward R. Murrow

Another way to develop excellent communication skills is through active listening. This type of listening requires you to “make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent,” Mind Tools says. To practice active listening, the first step is to pay close attention to the person with whom you are speaking. Try not to get distracted by your own thoughts or what is going on around you. Signal to the other person that you are listening, processing and understanding the points they are trying to convey by nodding the head or using phrases such as, “Right,” and “I understand,” throughout the conversation. Using these signals serves the dual purpose of letting the other person know you are paying attention while reminding yourself to stay tuned in. Other active listening tactics include asking occasional questions or commenting on particularly good points.

Cultivating emotional intelligence is another helpful communication strategy. This concept is rooted in our ability to “understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others,” according to Psychology Today. This communication technique is so important that some experts suggest it may be more important than IQ. Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.” It was introduced by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990. These two experts defined EI as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” Salovey and Mayer identified four different facets of emotional intelligence: the perception of emotion (understanding nonverbal signals such as body language), the ability to reason using emotions (using emotions to prioritize what we pay attention to and interact with), the ability to understand emotion (interpreting the causes of shown emotion) and the ability to manage emotion (responding appropriately to the emotions of others).

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Finally, asking good questions is a key part of effective communication. When you ask the right questions in a particular situation, you open up possibilities for better understanding and information exchange. Mind Tools points out that you can gather better information, learn more, build stronger relationships, manage people more effectively and help others learn. Some common questioning techniques include open questions, closed questions, funnel questions and probing questions.

Closed questions require a single word or very short answer, often “yes” or “no.” These questions are good for testing your understanding or making a decision. Open questions, on the other hand, elicit longer answers. They usually begin with words like what, why and how. This type of question invites the respondent to participate by adding information, opinions or feelings to the conversation. Funnel questions start with the general and move toward more specific answers. Usually, funnel questions start with closed questions and progress to open questions. They are ideal for finding out more detail. And probing questions are another way to find out more information. They are most often used to clarify, and include words like exactly, actually and so.

Becoming a Better Communicator With CSP

Communication is essential. Verbal, written or visual, communication keeps the business world going. Serial entrepreneur and innovator Richard Branson puts it like this: “Communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.” But while this skill is critical, it also can be elusive. For many, communication seems like a gift. In reality, it is a skill that can be learned through education and practice.

If you are looking to master communication and become a better leader, consider Concordia University, St. Paul’s online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication. This degree program is designed to help you create solutions to communication challenges using strategic thinking and logical analysis. It is ideal for those who have professional experience or career interests in corporate communication, public relations or other management functions. You can learn more about this responsive, relevant and real program here.