Leadership and Organizational Communication

By Dr. Greg Halpern

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Leadership skills and organizational communication skills are at the foundation of making great leaders.

Communication has matured over a relatively short period, changing from customary face-to-face dialogue to the use of innovative technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

With the introduction of the telegraph and telephone to more contemporary means such as email, text messaging, the use of social media, and video teleconferencing, communication has become easier to accomplish but much less personal and many times misunderstood.

A simple communication model provides the components necessary for communication – the sender, a message, the channel used to send the message, the receiver, and feedback from the receiver to the sender. As simple as this process loop seems, many issues tend to surface.

Organizational Communication

When one considers communication within an organization, the communication process becomes considerably more complicated. Organizational communication is, first and foremost, a reflection of culture, and barriers to organizational communication are numerous and ingrained in corporate culture. There are three specific areas to consider in the flow of organizational communication:

  • Downflow
  • Upward flow
  • Lateral/Diagonal flow

In the downflow of information from the upper echelons of the organization, blanketing the masses is no longer considered a viable means of communication. Information overload is already a problem as the lack of employee-relevant and job-related data. Bulletins, memos, letters, announcements, magazines, and policy statements can be so overwhelming that most are discarded before it is read.

Organizational communication from the executive leaders is often perceived to be less in tune and vaguer than from key sources closest to employees.

Upward Communication

Upward communication to the upper echelon is often filtered or blocked, such that only information that enhances credibility and status is sent up the line. A culture that embraces upward communication is required, so that information shared with management is not ignored or used to place blame.

Lateral communication within the organization may perhaps hold barriers too, which may include a lack of motivation, rivalry issues, or specialization.

Specialization is an area where communication may be particularly difficult between organizations, as technical jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations that may hinder the ability of one organization to comprehend the needs of the other.  To assist with breaking communication barriers, organizations must understand the interpersonal aspects at the individual level.

Johari Window

Enter the Johari Window

The Johari Window is an information-processing model which characterizes different types and qualities of relationships based on self, others, data known to oneself, and data unknown to oneself.

This model is helpful in understanding your interpersonal styles and the styles of others, which are critical to resolving most organizational communication issues, such as: failure to communicate, emotional situations, relationship quality, and managerial practices.

If a leader is willing to take risks and understands his own personal goals, he can create the norm for the environment – an environment where candor and the search for information from others are both understood and rewarded.  The organizational culture, as well as personal and corporate philosophies, will reflect the quality of the relationships existing among those who create it.

Email – A Communication Deterrent?

Email is ingrained in organizational culture and a deterrent to organizational communication.

When face-to-face communication is replaced by electronic mail, the opportunity for social integration decreases.  Blackberrys, cell phones, texting, and email have negatively affected responsibilities and availability.  Weekly conversations are being replaced, and overall traditional communication has declined, and therefore communication trustworthiness has declined.

The fundamental problem with electronic communication is that social and system integration declines, trust is not built, and one-to-one sharing and personal growth are negatively impacted.

This trend of corporations using more electronic communication in lieu of traditional methods may turn out to be more distressing in the future.

One can easily see that the continued use of electronic communication will not only negatively impact organizational communication, but the current and future damage to organizational communication will be difficult to overcome if the electronic mode becomes further entrenched.

Effective Communication and Organizational Culture

Cultural aspects of hierarchical communication also affect the ability to send a message successfully, as power and status could have a far-reaching effect on the ability to communicate.

Factors such as history in a business or organizational relationship, the ability of a leader to control a subordinate’s professional destiny, and perhaps a formal and rigid hierarchy could control and possibly inhibit the ability to communicate effectively.

The culture of the organization is a tremendous factor in such a phenomenon, as it may demonstrate a faceless upper echelon whose one-dimensional communication style may create an inability to show a personal interest in the people within the organization.

Change the Communication Culture

To improve organizational culture and communication, a culture change must take place, and an interpersonal style of communication is a critical ingredient.

Providing a culture of openness and interpersonal relationships will create an environment of trust and the ability to rid the organization of its dysfunctional ways, thus providing a true ability to communicate amongst others at every level of the organization.

How Can Leaders Improve Organizational Communication?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Greg Halpern
Dr. Greg Halpern
Greg is a performance improvement consultant with the DoD. He holds a M.S. Degree in Applied Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins, and a PhD in Organization Management with an emphasis on Leadership from Capella University.
  • Scott Killingsworth says:

    Excellent article and an interesting framework: the region stetching from the facade to the blind spot.

    If I may, here is a link to another paper that explores leadership communications in the context of some of the behavioral science of ethics and compliance — Modeling the Message: Communicating Compliance through Organizational Values and Culture , downloadable free at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2161076

  • Mohamed JALIL says:

    Many Thks. Very usefull. I hope I’ll get enough time to share more docs such yours
    once again thks M.JALIL

  • Ed Hawley says:

    With the impact of Sequestration being felt in the DOD industry, the candid communication (up, down and across) becomes even more important. How are the best in the industry navigating through this difficult period? Are there any sub-cultures you have seen who might be seen as role models?

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