Why lead through Communication?
Communication strategies are crucial in organizations, particularly in the information age. Organizations are growing immensely in terms of their operations. As a result, they are constantly looking for mechanisms for becoming competitive.
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One of the ways of gaining competitive advantage is through the implementation of communication strategies, which support organizational growth and objectives.
Right communication strategies have multiple benefits for an organization ranging from enhancing workforce motivation to the creation of additional customers and retention of the existing clientele.
Organizational leaders are ever placed on a constant pressure to comply with various demands by various corporate stakeholders while still ensuring that an organization remains competitive in the short and long run.
Upon ensuring compliance with these dual anticipations, organizational managers design and/or execute various business strategies.
Although the failure of such strategies may initiate at the designing phase, many of business strategies, irrespective of how well they are designed, have more failure rates at the implementation and execution phases.
The implication of this claim is that inadequate expertise in the execution of communication strategies within an organization may produce serious consequences.
At the phase of implementation of the business strategies, effective communication is essential in helping leaders to control and monitor the implementation of strategies to meet the desired goals and objectives.
Implications of inadequate expertise in communication strategies are reflected in a research conducted by McFarlin, Sweeney, and Cotton (2003) in which 197 management executives from 197 companies were surveyed to unveil their anticipations for success of their communication strategies.
The researchers found out that only 63 percent of all the surveyed executives anticipated their strategies to succeed.
Upon considering that 37 percent of the surveyed executives were not sure whether their communication strategies would succeed, the researchers concluded, “much of expectation and performance failures are a failure to execute the company’s strategy effectively” (McFarlin, Sweeney & Cotton, 2003, p.380).
Strategies are implemented through the collective effort of all people who must work to attain given goals and missions, which an organization is established to accomplish. These goals and objectives must be communicated effectively.
Communication provides a link between the plans developed by leaders to enhance the success of an organization and the actual implementation process of the programs. Developing strategies that would succeed requires ardent communication at all hierarchical structures of business administration.
Communication is vital since the implementation of new business strategies often involves change (Williams & Seaman, 2001).
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Poor communication often results in resistance to change, especially where the persons working in an organization perceive the changes being implemented as threats to their jobs and personal excellence.
For instance, while personnel at the headquarters of an organization may be fighting for standardization of products produced by an organization to ease supply chain and logistics challenges, the staff at departmental levels of various products may be opposed to such endeavors.
Additionally, inadequate communication at the intra-organizational levels may result in different perceptions of brands that would excel in the market.
Although effective leadership is crucial for the success of an organization, significant progress is attained when all workers have awareness in all hierarchical structures of an organization in the direction it takes.
This helps them support their operations effectively in terms of doing what is within its capacity to ensure that it succeeds in the direction set by its leaders. In this sense, the goal of an effective communication program within an organization is to foster a change in employee behaviors.
The desired change in an organization takes different forms. It may involve a shift in attitude or alteration of work processes in the effort to support the organization’s competitive advantage (Williams & Seaman, 2001, p.445).
Effective leadership entails the communication of strategies of success through translation of the essential business objectives and goals into terms that employees can understand easily.
In response to such communication elements, employees become engaged, aligned, and committed to work collectively towards driving organizational success.
In fact, many communication programs fall short when they fail to address precisely what employees, who are also the strategies implementers, need to know and/or do to enhance performance and success of an organization.
Leaders for dynamic organizations appreciate the importance of effective communication, mainly while working in an environment that is consistently changing.
They view communication as having the ability to deliver tangible products as opposed to being a soft component of their leadership roles.
Efforts of improving the satisfaction of consumers, enhancing the quality of service and product delivery, and enhancing retention and satisfaction of employees are all dependent on effective communication (Barrett, 2006, p.15).
In an organization that employs people from diverse backgrounds, communication is the tool deployed to harness individual differences of the employees by aligning them to a common organizational culture that is guided by aims, missions, goals, and objectives of the organization.
How to Communicate Effectively
Communicating effectively in an organization requires leaders to have emotional intelligence. Leaders are visions careers.
As the head of organizations, leaders are expected to have the ability to manage their emotions so that they do not get out of control irrespective of the challenges they go through while attempting to enhance compliance with their visions (Barrett, 2006).
Leaders have the total trust of their staff, speak kindly and eloquently, pay attention to concerns of the people they work with as a team and are at ease to address.
They also have the ability to make well-informed decisions. All these aspects help in building a productive climate for communication within an organization.
Effective leadership requires leaders to have the capacity to manage their emotions well. For this purpose, the integration of the perspectives of emotional intelligence in leadership becomes crucial.
Communicating effectively requires leaders to possess qualities such as the ability to listen effectively to others, have the ability and willingness to speak honestly and kindly, be approachable, and/or have the capacity to make reliable decisions.
These aspects of how to communicate effectively constitute many of the traits of an emotionally intelligent leader.
The concept of EI engulfs five crucial building blocks.
The first block is self-awareness. Self-awareness implies that leaders have the capacity to eloquently understand their feelings together with how such feelings can influence the people they lead (McFarlin, Sweeney & Cotton, 2003, p.364).
This infers that a leader clearly understands his or her strengths together with weakness that may affect his or her productivity.
The second block is self-regulation. This entails remaining in control of every situation that faces a leader. In other words, leaders who are able to self-regulate themselves possess minimal probabilities of attacking various members of work teams.
They do not make rushed emotionally-instigated decisions or compromise the values of the work team members.
The other three blocks are motivation, social skills, and empathy. Empathy involves putting one into the situation of another person.
In the context of leadership, the situation is that of the subordinates. Concerning social skills, capable leaders who possess high levels of emotional intelligence have excellent communicating skills.
Leading through communication requires leaders to amply understand the audience for every communication situation in terms of what motivates it to behave in specific ways. This calls for awareness of the people being led.
The reception of the leader by audience helps in shaping the perception and making decisions on whether to pay attention to the leader while talking or not (Barrett, 2006).
This suggests that the ethos and/or the initial presentation of the leader may create barriers to the reception of the desired message. When the audience does not listen to leaders when they speak, communication does not take place.
Leaders intending to build their success through effective communication need to master the art of persuasion.
This goal can be accomplished through the creation of positive ethos together with the development of a clear understanding of the nature of the people being led in terms of what propels them to pay attention to details.
Emotional intelligence leadership skills capture all these aspects of how to communicate effectively.
Who is Responsible for Communication?
Effective leaders communicate in all directions within an organization. However, effective communication does not merely happen. It is also not the principal function of the organization communication personnel.
For communication to achieve its effectiveness in enhancing integration and homogeneous operation of an organization, all hierarchical structures of management must engage in it. As claimed before, change is implemented through hierarchical structures of an organization.
Failure of achieving the desired goals of organizational change emanates from inadequate communication between change designers and implementers.
This underlines the significance of considering the possession of intrapersonal and interpersonal communication skills as some of the essential qualities of any effective leaders working in the information age organizations.
Communication personnel within an organization work under directions of a leader.
When such personnel is given information to relay to the subordinates, the accuracy of the transmitted data is dependent on the accuracy of the information communicated to the communication personnel by the leader (Barrett, 2006).
This implies that the sole responsibility of organizational communication rests on the leader.
Indeed, various models for leadership communication competency pay incredible consideration to communication skills from the perspectives of strategic capacity and personal abilities (Barrett, 2006, p.33).
Leaders who present high abilities to lead, direct, plan, monitor, and/or control their organizations effectively are the ones who portray exemplary skills of effective communication.
This has led many leadership training and development programs to consider communication skills as the component that binds all other facets of effective leadership.
Roles of Leaders in Communication
From a superficial perspective, communication is a simple task for emotionally intelligent leaders. In some leadership situations, sending memos and emails may serve the purpose of delivering the intended message.
However, in complex communication situations such as addressing issues of strikes within an organization, these simplistic methodologies of communication may fail to yield success (Barrett, 2006).
Such a situation requires leaders to evaluate the context and implications of their chosen communication to address employee conflicts with an organization in an effective manner.
This consideration highlights the significance of understanding the components or the facets of an effective communication process.
In the effort to ensure that communication makes positive impacts, planning, management, and taking of measures to enhance consistency and clarity of communication are vital areas to consider.
Thus, leading through effective communication requires leaders to avoid concentrating on just delivering messages while neglecting the importance of planning and management of communication processes.
Leaders need to avoid making any errors of equating the volume and the speed advantages offered by the internet to effective organizational communication.
The model shown below illustrates the roles played by a leader in communication.
Fig 1: Roles played by a leader in communication
Source (Barrett, 2006, p.56)
From the fig. 1 above, communication occurs in a context of system interactions. This system, which could be an organization itself, possesses factors that may hinder communication. Such factors include the perception of the leader developed in employees and the organizational culture.
When planning for communication, a leader needs to consider the barriers of communication (Barrett, 2006, p.57). Leaders also need to organize their communication strategies such that they fit well into the established organizational culture.
As a builder of the communication infrastructure and in an effort to lead through effective communication, a leader takes into corporation the aspects of the systems.
They include the existing communication climate, culture of the organizations, changes which may affect the organizational stakeholders, and the capacity of communication emanating from the leader to fit well with the practices of human resources within an organization (Barrett, 2006, p.68).
The second essential facet of effective communication is the role of a leader in the development of communication strategies through planning.
This role calls leaders to develop measurable communication objectives and/or analyze the implication of change to the organizational stakeholders in the effort to concentrate on the communication of issues that are meaningful and related to the interest of the stakeholders.
In the development of the communication strategy, a leader also deserves to engage in the selection of requisite channels for communication. He or she should endeavor to measure the effectiveness of various communication efforts.
Measurement is essential in the effort to adjust accordingly to the necessary strategies, which make leaders’ communication more effective.
Message delivery becomes essential after a leader fulfills the functions of communication planning and communication strategy development. To deliver the message efficiently, effective communication involves the utilization of various skills.
These skills include presentation skills, engagement of the audience through interrogatives, listening, facilitation, and engagement in problem-solving, mentoring, coaching, and evaluation of the impacts of communication in the context of the desired message.
The various components of the three roles of leaders in communication require different extents of mixes depending on the characteristics of the audience and the context in which the connection is accomplished.
The appropriate mix is also dependent on the degree of attention of the audience.
For instance, in situations where the purpose of communication is to resolve employees’ conflicts within an organization, no matter how presentable a leader may be, the audience may fail to develop the required attention for effective communication to take place.
The desired approach in such contexts is initiating the communication process by giving a room for the audience to pose interrogatives related to the purpose for which the communication forum is being held.
Models for Leadership Competency in Communication
The considerations of the importance of communication in leadership have led to the development of various models for leadership competency in communication. Two important models are LILI and the mathematical theory of organizational communication models.
Mathematical Theory Model
The mathematical model comprises five main elements, as illustrated in Fig.2 below.
Fig.2: Mathematical Models for Leadership Competency in Communication
Source (Barrett, 2006, p.98)
In an organization, the source of communication is the leader. The leader encodes the desired message. Through communication planning, the channel of communication is selected.
This may take the form of face-to-face communication, emails, memo, or any other suitable channel that suits the appropriate context. The receiver of the message decodes it and sends back the understanding of the message in a back loop in the form of the proper action to the source.
The back loop enables the leaders to determine whether they are effective in their communication strategies.
Based on the mathematical model for leadership communication competence, leaders develop the ability to determine their effectiveness in communication and their roles in it while also determining the necessary actions to handle the anticipated problems.
The message is determined at the source. At this level, leaders pay attention to convey just the appropriate information. This effort reduces curiosity and chances of loss of interest in listening (Barrett, 2006, p.109).
Failure to plan communication by failing to lay out a precise objective, understanding the audience, and/or failing to seek the feedback of the manner in which the information is received leads to poor crafting of communication, otherwise referred to as communication encoding.
In the encoding process, considerations of the cultural context are incredibly paramount. Misunderstanding and miscommunication of the desired message arise from language and cultural barriers.
Consulting and encoding of information so that a diverse number of people can understand it is especially important in contexts where cross-cultural communication is required.
According to the mathematical theory leadership communication competency model, after encoding, effort to communicate shifts effectively to the selection of the right channels.
Effective communication requires optimal utilization of communication opportunity while maintaining efficiency in the delivery of the intended message. For simple directions, emails are the most appropriate. Where the leader wants to delegate tasks, emails turn out ineffective.
People interrogate them together with the intention of the leader (Barrett, 2006). Emails and memos are also not appropriate where the communication raises emotional charges in an organization.
Under such circumstances, the best channel in an organizational setting is face-to-face or telephone communication. They allow the leader to evaluate and judge the impacts of the words used in the communication process.
In the decoding stage, the leader becomes the active listener while the audience becomes the speaker. Through the responses of the audience, the leader acquires feedback on the effectiveness of his or her communication.
The level of the audience engagement in the communicated message, agreeableness, defensiveness, and comprehension are indicators of the success of communicating the planned message.
The LILI model considers four key drivers for any effective organizational communication. LILI refers to leading, involving, listening, and informing (Barrett, 2006, p.165).
The traditional approaches to organizational communication focused only on informing, which only comprises 25 percent of effective communication (Barrett, 2006). This explains why communication strategies that are aimed at informing fail to succeed in delivering results.
Communication is best achieved in the two-way information flow process. The LILI model suggests that communication strategies need to change to accommodate changes in inputs.
Hence, “leaders should incorporate each of the four drivers, as appropriate to the situation” (Williams & Seaman, 2001, p.455). This implies that leaders need to understand their audiences together with their information requirements.
Thus, the act of involving and/or listening to organizational stakeholders is an essential step under the LILI model for gaining inputs to communication combined with the necessary feedback to enhance the effectiveness in communication.
Leading in the implementation of contents of the communicated message is the facet of the LILI model, which enables the leader to establish a model for appropriate behavioral commitments to any communicated information, thus setting the necessary collective direction for an organization.
Rating Leaders’ Capacity to Communicate Effectively
The determination of the capacity of a leader to communicate effectively depends on the model of communication deployed.
Apart from analyzing the response of the audience after delivery of the message, leaders need to engage themselves in several interrogatives to evaluate their effectiveness in communication. These interrogatives are:
- Does the leader possess communication strategies, which guide all the communication activities?
- Does the leader possess adequate information on what people want to understand from the communication and/or how they are likely to respond to the communication?
- Is the message planned for delivery aligned with the organizational values, mission, objectives, and vision?
- Does the communication integrate perspectives of a two-way communication process?
- Does the communication plan pay attention to the past incidences of poor or inaccurate communication to avoid their repetition in the current communication plan?
- Does the communication consider various elements of effective communication in leadership: listening, directing, informing, leading, and involvement of the audience?
- Does the leader factor in the employees’ preferences for communication media such as face-to-face communication or emails?
- Is the responsibility of communication delegated to other leaders below the leader? If so, are the people charged with communication delivering the intended messages and/or do they comprehensively understand and endeavor to improve their roles as organizational communicators?
If the response to all above question is yes, a leader can consider his or her communication immensely effective. A score of 5-8 indicates that a leader is on his or her way into becoming an effective leader through effective communication.
However, he or she needs to invest more time in the development of the qualities of an effective organizational communicator. A score of less than 4 depicts ineffectiveness in leading through communication.
Effective communication is the key determinant of the capacity of leaders to achieve their mandates of leading, directing, planning, monitoring, and controlling.
Communicating effectively requires the understanding of organizational culture, audience, and information needs and interest of various organizational stakeholders.
This ensures that the concerns of the likely barriers and conflicts of the information communicated are mitigated in the planning phase of communication. Effective leaders in communication possess certain leadership traits, which influence people through communication.
One of the essential traits is emotional intelligence (EI). EI helps leaders compose the context, orient, and/or prepare the audience to listen to them. To ensure that effective communication is achieved, it is also necessary to adopt a communication model that suits an appropriate scenario.
Barrett, J. (2006). Leadership Communication. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
McFarlin, B., Sweeney, D., & Cotton, L. (2003). Attitudes toward employee participation in decision-making: A comparison of European and American managers in a U.S. multinational. Human Resource Management Journal, 31(4), 363−383.
Williams, J., & Seaman, E. (2001). Predicting change in management accounting systems: National culture and industry effects. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 26(5), 443−460.