Unit 430 Leadership Topic 5: Leaders as communicators

For our purposes, the best way to begin thinking about leaders and their roles as communicators is to see communication as a process. The first phase of this process involves the sender transmitting the message to the follower. The second phase may involve the receiver indicating that the message has not been fully received. In this event, the receiver's feedback may prompt the sender to rework or reselect the items making up the message, in an attempt to improve the transmission.

Leaders as senders of information

In the course of their work, leaders will have many reasons to communicate and send out messages about:
* the vision
* the mission
* the company's values
* strategy
* decisions
* performance appraisals
* organisational policies and procedures
* company status reports
* motivational messages.

To communicate the organisation's vision, a leader will need to:
1. Clearly establish the intention of the message before transmitting it.
2. Select the most appropriate form of expression.
3. Check to ascertain whether the message was received by the intended recipients.
4. Check whether the message was understood.
5. After obtaining feedback relating to the quality of the communication (as determined by the recipients' level of understanding and feedback), check to see if the message needs to be altered and re-transmitted.

For communication to be effective, it must be clear. This means the message's purpose and intention need to be clearly transmitted and understood by the receiver. The challenge here is two-fold: firstly, being clear about the purpose of the message; and secondly, transmitting the message clearly.

The best tip for establishing and maintaining clarity of purpose is to use the 5 Ws:
* What is the purpose of the message?
* Who needs to hear it? Who needs to transmit it?
* Why do we need to transmit this message?
* When does it need to happen?
* Which stakeholders will be affected by the message?

The second component of clear communication is the transmittal of the message.

According to Daft (2008), to carry out effective conversations, a number of key prerequisites are necessary:
1. Create a climate conducive to open communication.
2. Be ready to truly listen.
3. Look for any hidden messages or underlying 'unspoken' issues.
4. Encourage dialogue (where both parties listen and talk) to promote understanding and prevent misinterpretation.

To transmit messages clearly, leaders need to:
1. Select the most appropriate communication channel.
2. Keep the messages simple and succinct.
3. Avoid language that could be open to misinterpretation.
4. Be honest.

The best way to communicate a message is to do so assertively. Assertive communication involves expressing messages (negative or positive) in an open, honest and direct manner. Assertive communication encourages people to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions, and to do so without judgment and blame of others. The objective of assertive communication is to transmit the message in a way that is constructive, minimises the negative effects of conflict and fosters a mutually beneficial outcome. Assertive communication can be contrasted to passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive
communication.

Hughes et al. (2006: 449–450) suggest that leaders can improve their assertive communication skills by:
* Using 'I' statements. 'I' statements are structured in such a way that the person making the statement takes responsibility for what they say.
* Speaking up for what they need. Effective leaders recognise that they do not need to know and do everything.
* Learning to say no. Leaders may need to say no to their superiors, peers and subordinates to stand up for their own rights or the rights of others.
* Monitoring the inner dialogue. Typically, assertive people have positive, self-affirming inner dialogue. By thinking positively, they are capable of remaining objective in difficult situations.
* Being persistent. Assertive communicators are able to remain strong and firm in the face of obstacles without allowing negative emotions (e.g. anger, irritation, frustration) to overwhelm their argument.

Leaders as receivers of information

Just as leaders need to send messages, they also need to be adept at receiving messages. Effective leaders need to be able to receive information from all levels of the organisation to get a true picture of the status quo and progress.

There are three techniques leaders can employ to receive messages clearly:
* effective listening
* effective questioning
* emotional intelligence

Huseman et al. (1988: 233–234) suggest the following factors can determine how effective leaders are as listeners:
1. Verbal ability and vocabulary. Being proficient with words aids comprehension and retention.
2. Note taking. By listening carefully and summarising the main points, people can significantly improve comprehension and retention. The act of note taking reinforces the message for the listener as they are able to both hear and see the words.
3. Motivation. The desire to listen plays a great role in the level of comprehension and retention. Messages that appeal to an individual's interests, emotions and mind set have a greater chance of being effectively communicated.
4. Environment. Good listeners anticipate and know how to deal with distracting environmental factors.

Tips to improve active listening skills are:
1. Stop talking
2. Eliminate any distractions
3. Pay attention to the purpose and the words
4. Paraphrase key points
5. Remain open, flexible and observant
6. Follow-up

The benefits for leaders of developing questioning skills include:
* building trust and rapport between themselves and followers
* developing a better understanding of what is going on in the organisation
* motivating others to think for themselves and take responsibility for their actions.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman released a book on emotional intelligence that introduced the concept to a wide audience. Daft (2008: 143) defines emotional intelligence, or EQ, as:
...a person's abilities to perceive, identify, understand and successfully manage emotions in self and others. Being emotionally intelligent means being able to effectively manage ourselves and our relationships.

In a subsequent 1998 article, Goleman applied the concept to leadership and identified five components of emotional intelligence at work: Self-Awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social Skill... EQ is particularly important in leaders as receivers of information. For example, possessing a high degree of self-awareness and self-regulation allows a leader to comfortably listen to an employees point of view without letting negative emotions interfere. In addition, high levels of empathy add depth to a leader's ability to listen and ask the right questions.

Communication channels

Communication channels refer to the media used to transmit messages. There are many communication channels to choose from and, depending on the purpose and content of the message, some channels will be more effective then others.

To help select the most appropriate communication channel, Huseman et al. (1988) suggest that leaders ask the following questions:
1. Is immediate feedback needed?
2. Is there a need for a documentary record?
3. Should the message be in words at all, and if so, is English the language to use?
4. Are there any cost considerations?
5. Are there any timing considerations?

For organisational goals to be achieved, it is essential that internal communication should be both smooth and direct. It is therefore useful to analyse the communication patterns within organisations to get a better idea of what leaders need to consider when sending or receiving messages.

Huseman et al. (1988: 309) suggest that communication patterns within organisations can be described in terms of direction, nature and formality. Communication direction refers to the way the information flows within the organisation, e.g. vertically (downward or upward), horizontally (across the organisation between peers) and or diagonally (downward or upward but outside the formal line of command).

Regardless of the size or type of organisation, communication will occur with those outside the organisation. External parties such as investors, industry bodies, government authorities, communities and customers all have varying communication needs.

The term 'public' can encompass a broad range of people and organisations who have an interest in the organisation. From a communications perspective, this means that the target audience is varied. A sender of information (e.g. leader) will need to:
1. Identify the needs of the particular receiver.
2. Alter the content of the message to suit the receiver's needs.
3. Select the most appropriate communication channel to relay the message.
4. Establish channels for feedback.

Leaders play an important communication role in public relations because they:
a) Are responsible for organisational direction and strategy
b) Identify the key organisational objectives.
c) Decide on the content of the messages.
d) Authorise the allocation and use of organisational resources.
e) Are often the figureheads/public spokespersons for their organisation.

Customer relations refer to the organisation's communications with its internal and external customers. Unlike public relations, the channels of communication used in customer relations are not as highly specialised or as expensive to implement. Most organisations today claim excellent customer service as part of their value system and many measure their performance according to customer satisfaction criteria. In this context, the leader's role is to ensure the organisation's performance standards are achieved.

Barriers to communication

Typically within organisations, the communication process can break down due to 'noise', bureaucracy and semantic differences that interfere with the transmission of the message from the sender to the receiver. Noise, for example, refers to interferences to the signal that distort the message and can lead to losses of meaning. The breakdown can stem from the sender (too much content, too complex, misses the point), the communication channel (wrong format, too wordy, inappropriate use of language) and/or the receiver (deliberately chooses to misinterpret).

To overcome and avoid barriers to communication, leaders need to:
* create an organisational environment that encourages open, multi-directional communication
* remove or mitigate any structural barriers
* create a blame-free climate that emphasises inclusion
* invite open and honest dialogue
* develop their own range of communication skills (presentation skills, effective questioning, effective listening, conducting strategic conversations, etc.)
* practice what they preach (e.g. if preaching open communications, don't hide behind a closed door or personal assistant)
* circular as it may seem, continually make efforts to identify and overcome barriers.

Leadership communication contexts

Conflict occurs when two or more parties have incompatible goals and interests (Hughes et al., 2006: 486). Conflict can be the result of an individual's personal struggle with aligning the organisation's values, culture and modus operandi with their own values and belief systems. It can also be caused by issues that occur when people have to depend on each other or share scarce resources. Other sources of organisational conflict include an absence of clear policies and rules, incompatible goals and objectives, power inequalities and issues relating to uncertainty. There are, however, occasions where conflict can be constructive and even beneficial to the organisation.

In the 1970s, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five major styles of dealing with conflict:
1. Competition
2. Accommodation
3. Sharing/Compromise
4. Collaboration
5. Avoidance. (Thomas, 1977)

The styles were measured against two behavioural dimensions: assertiveness and cooperation. For example, using the avoidance approach to conflict management requires both parties to be indifferent to each other's concerns (unassertive/uncooperative), whereas using collaboration involves making an effort to satisfy both parties (highly assertive/highly cooperative). The challenge for leaders is to know when to use each style.