Communication: The Language of Leadership


“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” James Humes[1]


At the heart of every successful organization stands a leader tasked with creating followers who achieve the institution’s goals. Beside each leader stands a coach compelled to accompany them on the journey to improve communication to better their organizations and followers. In an ever-changing competitive global environment, organizations march toward a future wrought with constant challenges and change as they strive to keep pace with technological advances and global competition. Simultaneously, leaders must combat formidable enemies such as cyber security, disruptive technologies, sustainability, and climate change.[2] Imagine the strong future of these organizations when engaged, committed followers focus on the task of sailing the organizational ship. In contrast, what might the future hold for a vessel operated by followers who lack engagement, competence, and motivation? The difference in their journey and the success of their voyage lie directly in the hands of the leader at the helm.


What Makes Communication so Important?

Communication reflects the symbols we use to convey meaning.[3] While this seems a simple concept, people interpret these symbols based on a variety of factors ranging from prior experiences and cultural background to the communicator’s writing ability and style.[4] Symbols (represented by words, behaviors, and expressions) create a purposeful interpretation of reality and allow individuals to evaluate and communicate the past, the present, and the future.[5] Leaders who communicate well allow followers to reflect on past performance, to analyze present problems and situations, and to plan ahead for the future setting their followers and the organization on the path to success.[6]

Because communication shapes reality, the ways in which leaders relate symbols to meaning is vitally important. The symbols – words, behaviors, and expressions – leaders convey build a foundation for the future. When a leader’s actions are consistent with expressing those symbols over time, trust flourishes and a strong foundation begins to take hold. But, when a leader’s actions misalign, chinks in the foundation prevent a rock-solid footing which results in a shaky future.


Techniques to Evaluate Communication

How does a leader evaluate communication? In its simplest form, a question could be asked:


“Did what I communicate accomplish my intended outcome?”


Unfortunately, evaluation isn’t always that simple. While intended outcomes may be achieved, what was the impact on trust? Did morale suffer at the expense of reaching a goal?

Evaluating communication is complex and requires an ongoing, systematic method. According to SaskCulture, evaluating communication begins with reviewing goals and objectives and identifying the aspects of communication you want to measure. Leaders should question their communication by asking the following questions:

  • Are you concerned about effectiveness or efficiency?

  • How is your audience responding?

  • Is there evidence that supports whether or not your audience (or followers) engages the material or topic?

Next, determine the best method for assessing your identified important aspects. Consider:

  • Collecting data via a survey

  • Conducting interviews

  • Observing attitudes and behaviors

Assess the results of the data and observations to identify blind spots and gaps and work to improve those areas while continuing to strengthen the areas where the leader shines!

 

[1] Author and former presidential speechwriter

[2] Coulson-Thomas, C. (2018). Organizational leadership for challenging and changing times. Effective Executive, 21(3), 14-37.

[3] Johnson, C.E. & Hackman, M.Z. (2018). Leadership: A Communication Perspective, 7th ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, p. 6.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Coulson-Thomas, C. (2018). Organizational leadership for challenging and changing times. Effective Executive, 21(3), 14-37.


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