Underpinning successful leadership is effective and impactful communication. Communication “fosters trust, cohesion, inclusiveness, and psychological safety, which are all attitudes essential for fruitful collaborations” (Benishek et al. 2014) within and outside of a team.

In this article, I will address communication to equip leaders with the tools to kick-start meaningful and lasting change. First, I will discuss the characteristics of effective communication more generally. Armed with this foundation for impactful communication, I will then focus on how best to convey guiding principles and vision.

Well-executed communication is a vital facet of successful leadership. Messages of any kind should be translated succinctly into written and verbal forms to boost impact and resonance. To this end, Floris van der Leest (2022) provides a useful framework for crafting effective communication, explaining the necessity for “clear, correct, complete, concrete, concise, courteous, coherent, consistent, and creative communication.” Benishek et al. (2014) expand on this to include openness (not holding back) and adaptability.

Ultimately, communication “allows teams to mitigate information overload as well as handle and adapt in dynamic situations, predict team members’ needs, foster seamless coordination, and execute plans efficiently” (Benishek et al. 2014). Incorporated into this view of communication are timely and precise feedback and leaving room for processing changes and adapting to new contexts, all of which “lead to functional outcomes for the entire team” (Benishek et al. 2014).

So, you have your message, but how do you effectively spread it? Leveraging existing information exchange protocols or information highways to foster presentation, recall, and shared understanding of the message is key. To do this, leaders should focus on the flow of information (such as brainstorms, workshops, regular meetings, interactive websites, and boundary spanners) and work to improve these flows (Benishek et al. 2014). Those leaders “who employ information exchange protocols have greater team attendance, greater satisfaction, and a decrease in missed information” (Benishek et al. 2014).

Additionally, leaders should consider using closed loop communication, “a process of acknowledging and clarifying information with the sender of the communicated message to assure that the recipient did receive and comprehend the information in the same manner it was originally intended” (Ben ishek et al. 2014). This method of communication is a process of quality assurance and is necessary when first articulating and communicating new concepts (whether concrete or abstract). Ultimately, the combination of effectively developing and thoughtfully spreading communication sets the stage for lasting impact.

Once the guiding principles and vision have been developed and refined, and information highways have been identified and fine-tuned, it's time to spread the word. John Kotter (2011) explains that the leader should use “every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies. Teaching new behaviors by example of the guiding principles.” Kotter identifies three actions of executives who communicate well:

First, these successful leaders incorporate their vision messages into hour-by-hour activities, seeking opportunities to tie ideas, decisions, and actions back to their guiding principles and vision. This process of message articulation and regular reiteration engrains the direction into the fabric and daily behaviors of the team.

Second, they effectively use every possible channel, especially those being wasted on nonessential information, to communicate their vision. For example, “they take ritualistic, tedious quarterly management meetings and turn them into exciting discussions of the transformation.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, leaders “consciously attempt to become a living symbol of the new corporate culture,” communicating not just verbally or in writing, but by truly embodying their message. Essentially, “communication comes in both words and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form. Nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with their words.”

Developing impactful written and verbal communication is the first step toward ensuring a message's resonance. With a well-written message in hand, understanding the current communication highways is the natural next step. This takes time and effort and involves inquiring with team members about current communication habits and areas for improvement. However, this is time well spent, as it is these information exchange protocols that the leader will later leverage.

With guiding principles and a vision crafted into easily communicated bites and information highways identified and fine-tuned, it's time to unleash the message and begin the process of integrating the desired changes into the fabric of the team. At this point, the message has been sent both verbally and in writing, it is constantly linked to daily activities, and the team begins to shift. Now and in the future, the leader must consistently embody the change they wish to see, leading by example.

The next column in this series will discuss team development as it pertains to change leadership. Specifically, it will cover strategies aimed at enhancing the outcomes of teams both large and small amid change.

Alexis Shoemaker is a senior specialist of technology and standards at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). She holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's in research administration. She is the author of Leadership in Research Insights and Business Intelligence: A Conceptual Framework and Guide, published in 2022.

Alexis Shoemaker is a senior specialist of technology and standards at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). She holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a master's in research administration. She is the author of Leadership in Research Insights and Business Intelligence: A Conceptual Framework and Guide, published in 2022.

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