We all want to be better, more self-aware leaders, more emotionally intelligent managers, a boss who isn't toxic at least. But for what end? Most often, it's for the end result--better business results. 

So with all the things we can focus on to drive an improved top and bottom line, what's the bottom line? Where should we focus our efforts?

A major new study from Blessing White just provided the answer. 1,500 leaders were asked in the study: "What leadership development topics would most improve your ability to achieve results for the organization?"

The answer was clear and resounding. Communication.

More specifically, leaders are looking to develop their communication skills in four "trouble spot" areas:

1. Communicating Change

Poorly managed change can erode an employee's perception of his/her company and its leaders, painting the leaders as callous, out of touch, incompetent, or worse. As a leader, it's your responsibility to bring order to the unruly nature of change. People aren't afraid of change as much as they're afraid of not being prepared for change, which you can avoid by being proactive, having a plan for executing/communicating change, and starting the process early. People don't want change happening to them, they'd rather be convinced it's happening for them and be involved.

To that point, right up front, make the case for change. Why is it happening? How does the change support broader business goals and tie to company values and to what's important to employees? What will be easy and not so easy about the forthcoming change? That said, encourage employees to think of change like a software upgrade (it must be beneficial or else why would you be changing).

By far, the smoothest transitions in times of change that I experienced as a leader came when I made the case for change, and benefits associated with the change, crystal clear. 

Finally, consider enrolling change agents, employees who believe in the change and that can help spread the message in a positive manner. Regularly review why and how you're changing and take these opportunities to reinforce that the audience has the competence for change (many perceive change will be very difficult on them).

2. Difficult Conversations With Employees

No one enjoys giving employees difficult feedback. The key is to stay focused on the specific behaviors causing the problem and the implications for stakeholders--never make it about them as a person. 

You also have to be clear on direct consequences and let them choose solutions (alternate behaviors and actions that you discuss).

Finally, you must offer support and be fair, but firm. I learned early as a manager of others that beating around the bush and failing to be direct and precise in the feedback just leaves the employee confused.

3. Communicating to Inspire

Loud extroverts don't hold the patent on inspiring communication, introverts can be just as inspiring. Any leader can use what I call the three "P" method of inspiring communication--it comes down to what you project, provide, and promote.

Project confidence and passion.

Provide certainty (clear direction, parameters) and a sense of empathy.

Promote the feelings you want to promote. Be intentional about it. Maya Angelou said, "People may not remember exactly what you did, but they'll always remember how you made them feel." That sentiment is critical to communications that inspire. Think through the feelings you'll illicit with your communications--are they feelings you intend?

4. Communication Against a Remote, Global Backdrop

When you're not face to face you miss body language and other signals. Trust can unintentionally waver. As an entrepreneur, I've learned the importance of effective remote communications as my contractors/employees are all remote.

Remote working expert Janie Kliever says it's important to think through each technology tool you use for communicating with remote workers, ensuring they all have a defined purpose. Otherwise, the number of remote tools soon can become confusing and overwhelming (video conferencing, email, Slack, group chats, phone conferences, the latest productivity tool--you get the idea).

Kliever also says it's important each remote party commits to minimizing interruptions on their end (many are likely working from home), that you make use of periodic check-ins and that you watch your tone with written communications, which can easily be construed incorrectly. Workers in other countries add another layer of complexity, requiring the leader to know their audience and be aware of cultural differences and language barriers.

Investing to improve your communication skills has a ripple effect as communication is the foundation of virtually every other leadership action (delegating, leading through change, influencing, inspiring, etc.). No wonder leaders feel improving it has the biggest potential for better business results.

So start by working on these trouble spots and watch your results be anything but troubling.