Communication skills for managers and leaders
Communication skills are very important for all managers and leaders
Good communication skills allow managers and leaders to perform their role more effectively.
Their role requires that they communicate. They must communicate many things to many people: they must communicate effectively to the team, to their suppliers, to their customers and financiers.
So it is important that leaders and managers are good communicators.
Communication skills for managers and leaders are different from communication skills for the average person in the street.
Communication skills for managers and leaders consist, mainly, of six subset skills..
- The ability to set out the goal or the target to be hit.
- The ability to communicate the plan of action that, it is hoped will describe successful action, capable of achieving the goal.
- The ability to communicate delegated actions: who is going to do which task?
- The ability to give corrective critical feedback to the people who are not performing in the proper manner and, in addition, to be able to get them to correct their performance and get “back on track“.
- The ability to give praise and appreciation to those who are doing a good job.
- The ability to communicate the need for constant change, adaptation, refinement and flexibility to the conditions, whilst still remaining faithful to the overall goal and plan.
Let us look at each:
1. The ability to set out the goal or the target to be hit
The role of the leader manager is to guide the team to a successful conclusion. And if we define success as, “the achievement of a worthwhile and valuable goal“, then one cannot be successful without achieving a “valuable goal“. And you cannot expect the team to hit the target goal, if they don’t know what it is.
So, the first role of a leader is to set a clear target – or goal – to be hit.
This, the ability to set out the goal or the target to be hit, is the primary communication skill of a leader manager.
Example of this type of communication taken from field marshal Montgomery at the battle of el Aleman,
“Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the enemy forces in North Africa; I have seen it, written on half a sheet of notepaper.
You must see that this mandate permeates right down through the Eighth Army to the most junior private soldiers. All the soldiers must know what is wanted”.
2. The ability to communicate the plan of action that it is hoped will describe successful action, capable of achieving the goal
It is not enough to know what goal is to be attempted. It is also important to have a detailed Master-plan, which is capable of achieving the goal.
The leader and management team must be able to do two things:
- Formulate an excellent Master plan.
- Communicate the excellent master plan.
So, the ability to explain and communicate the details of a plan of action is an essential skill. This requires the ability to speak clearly using accurate language, not ambiguous language.
Ambiguous language is language that has more than one meaning.
Accurate language is language that has only one meaning.
It is an important skill in leadership: to have only one possible meaning derived from your message.
But if you use language that is too vague and ambiguous, then confusion, error and disaster will reign in your domain.
Example of leadership language that was too vague and ambiguous, causing confusion, error and disaster.
The charge of the light brigade:
The charge of the light brigade went down in history as an archetypal leadership blunder. It was caused by poor communication skills of Lord Lucan towards his subordinate Cardigan. Lucan simply ordered Cardigan to “attack the guns, down the valley”.
Obviously, this is a vague and indistinct order. And then Cardigan failed to ask the obvious questions: “Specifically, which guns and down which valley?”
Cardigan pointed out the fact there were numerous enemy positions in the vicinity to which Lord Lucan simply replied that Cardigan should “Take the ride down there at moderate speed so as not to exhaust the horses”.
Cardigan failed to ask the obvious “Down where? Specifically????”
3. The ability to communicate who is going to do which task
This is the art of delegation. Delegation is the act of entrusting a task to another. All good managers and leaders are incessant and accurate delegators.
Many managers are afraid to delegate.
Don’t be afraid to delegate.
Here is some advice from Donald Rumsfeld. U.S. secretary of defence
“Find good people and give them the work. If a matter is not a decision for the President, or you, then delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure and then delegate.”
4. The ability to give critical feedback to the people who are not performing in the proper manner and, in addition, to be able to get them to improve their performance
It is important to be able to criticise people in a manner that corrects the behaviour but does not foul the relationship.
Many failures have been caused by the breakdown of cooperative relationships within the team. When a dispute causes the members of the same team to regard each other as enemies, then whole project is put at risk.
The ability to communicate constructive criticism is “a must”.
Margaret Chase Smith quote:
“Every human being is entitled to courtesy and consideration. Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought”.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, quote:
“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”
5. The ability to give praise and appreciation to those who are doing a good job
It is equally important to be able to praise, as it is to critique.
Well timed and specific praise a one of the social motivators.
Social motivators are those motivators that inspire people into action, but are not tangible motivators, such as money. Social motivators are often words.
Words that inspire positive emotions such as loyalty or pride, or self-esteem.
All good managers are good at giving well timed and specific praise and appreciation
All poor leaders and managers are scanty and miserly in their use of praise and appreciation.
Poor managers say “I pay him, why should I have to praise him as well.
” Good leaders recognise “that money is not the only motivator. And if I am paying them, then I want them highly motivated, not demotivated; and therefore, I will use praise and appreciation as one of my leadership methods.”
Good leader and managers use positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the act of associating pleasurable feeling to an event or action, with the intention that that action and ones similar to it will be repeated. With animals, positive reinforcement usually involves giving titbits. With humans, it usually means giving a kind word of thanks.
B F Skinner quotes “The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount“.
6. The ability to communicate the need for constant change adaptation, refinement and flexibility to the conditions that are predominating, whilst remaining faithful to the overall goal (1) and plan (2)
Since no human is perfect, no human plan is perfect. And therefore, plans often don’t work. You find that only part of the plan is working well.
The rest is either, not working well, or is a complete failure!
So now you must be able to do three things:
- Keep progressing with the areas that are working well.
- Modify and adapt the parts that aren’t working well.
- Completely rewrite and change the parts that are a complete failure.
These skills require that you communicate to the team.
You must be able to keep people motivated and feeling strong. Even during the times where the plan is not working well or when it is a complete failure.
You must communicate this message:
Temporary defeat and setbacks are not permanent failure.
We will analyse the facts, formulate a new plan and come back tomorrow with a new and better plan.
Even in the darkest days the leader must communicate that final victory is inevitable.
This is indeed a magical ability. But one that is magical in its effects, not its cause. The cause is the communication skill of the individual leaders: their ability to formulate great sentences that will affect the minds of their listeners, towards the positive, and that will remain in the memory, and resonate courage, long after they were first heard.
Churchill was the best exponent of the ability to keep people going when things are gone wrong.
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour”.