Communication studies and leadership education are strongly intertwined. Johnson and Hackman (2013) posit that leadership is a form of communication in that, in meeting the goals of the organization or group, it is used to modify the attitudes and behaviours of others. Good communication along with teamwork are essential to the provision of safe patient care, especially in today’s complex healthcare environment (Manser, 2009).
Leaders can be task-oriented or communicative. A communicative leadership style enhances both knowledge sharing with the leader as well as obtaining information from the leader. Task-oriented communication or leadership style tends to be less communicative and may reflect a more management than leadership style (McCartney & Campbell, 2006).
Communication occurs not only between leaders and staff but also between staff. Knowledge sharing between staff results from the reciprocal exchange of information and the subsequent co-creation of knowledge (van den Hooff & de Ridder, 2004). The communication style of a staff/team member affects the willingness of other staff/team members to share knowledge and is affected by the communication style of the leader.
Communication and leadership
Read Chapter 1 “Leadership and Communication” (pages 1-31) in:
Activity and reflection:
Complete and score the Willingness to Communicate Scale of this chapter and compare your score to the norms.
Ask a colleague or classmate to complete the Willingness to Communicate Scale and compare your scores and sub-scores with that person.
- Reflect on what factors make you and this person reluctant to communicate in certain situations and contexts.
- What can you do to increase your willingness to communicate?
- What communication skills do you need to improve?
Diversity considerations in communication
Workplaces are increasingly diverse and we are increasingly aware of the need to embrace diversity for teams to function optimally. Diversity is “the variety of characteristics that all persons possess, that distinguish them as individuals, and that identify them as belonging to a group or groups” (Dingwall et al., 2021). A diverse workforce brings many advantages but can also present communication challenges. As previously discussed, good communication can increase performance; poor communication reduces shared understanding and can hinder performance.
In any environment, and particularly in one with a diverse workforce, it is important that leaders consider the implications of what they communicate across a range of perspectives. Suggestions for optimizing communication in a diverse workplace include:
- Reflecting on your own beliefs and perspectives
- Recognizing and celebrating the different perspectives brought by members of a diverse team
- Being open to hearing and learning more about how a team member’s race, gender age, sexuality, etc., affect their experience in the workplace
- Tailoring communication content and channeling it to suit the team or individual members of the team
- Choose your language carefully and avoid slang, idioms, acronyms, and jargon to ensure it is understood by all groups.
Effective meetings and effective written communication: Planning and running effective meetings
Meetings take up about 47% of the day for those in helping professions (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017) and can often be perceived, or really be, an inefficient use of time and human resources. Inefficient meetings are perceived to be the most common barrier to productivity (OECD, 2017).
Effective meetings that are well-planned and well-run can actually generate a return on the investment of time. Time must be invested in planning and running meetings for them to be effective. The following five meeting characteristics affect the perception that a meeting is good:
- Use of an agenda;
- Keeping of minutes;
- Appropriate meeting environment; and
- Having a meeting leader (Leach et al., 2009).
Written agenda items and completion of all agenda items influence participants to report the meeting as a good meeting (Leach et al., 2009).
Meetings may be called for stated as well as unstated reasons. Most meetings are held for one, or more, of the following reasons: supervision, performance management, communication, problem-solving, project management, and/or “product” generation (Perkins, 2009). Unstated reasons for a meeting do not appear on the agenda and could include: increasing the motivation of attendees to complete a task; observing interactions among attendees; or providing feedback. The explicit goals of the meeting should always be reflected in the meeting invitation and in the agenda. These should also inform the structure of the meeting.
The planning of meetings is usually the responsibility of the person leading the meeting and both the leader and the participants are responsible for the conduct of the meeting. Meeting leaders plan and manage the agenda, and participants are responsible for contributing productively and staying on task. Before planning and calling a meeting, the leader should always ask whether the meeting is really needed. If the intent of the meeting is communication, and this same information could be shared in another way – by email, for instance – then a meeting may not be the best option. If the communication is long, detailed and/or complicated, then a meeting is a better approach (Kruger et al., 2005; LaFrance, 2016).
Meeting agendas should usually include a summary or statement of the purpose of the meeting, a list of tasks associated with the meeting, the meeting goal or purpose, and a time estimate for completing each of the tasks during the meeting. The order of the agenda items should follow the anticipated flow of the discussion as well as the priority of the items. Occasionally, agenda items are ordered such that critical participants are present if they are only able to attend part of the meeting. Meetings can be both more effective and more cost-efficient when attendance is limited to those that have something to contribute to the items on the agenda. The presence of some attendees may be considered critical to meeting the outcomes of the meeting; their absence would result in not meeting the meeting goal(s). These individuals could be contacted individually, and the importance of their presence shared to ensure that they prioritize their attendance.
Planning when and where meetings are held can also have an impact on the effectiveness of the meeting. The careful scheduling of meetings to avoid certain key periods of the day can reduce their impact on productivity (Hood, 2013). Sharing information in advance of the meeting can also improve its effectiveness. It is recommended that agendas be shared at least 24 hours in advance of the meetings (Bailey & Burch, 2010). Email reminders about meetings also increase meeting attendance (Fienup et al., 2013).
When the agenda is shared and/or at the start of a meeting, the meeting leader might remind those present of the rules of effective meeting collaboration. A very important aspect of meeting management is that the meeting is started on time (Davis, 2013). During the meeting, the meeting leader manages time as well as the attendees’ interpersonal dynamics in order to minimize delay and behaviours that might impede attaining the meeting goals, and to make it easy for attendees to contribute fully and effectively. About 10% of the meeting time should be spent on closing the meeting, including clarifying and summarizing what has been said and decided on (Durgin et al., 2014). The leader might also provide feedback, at the end of the meeting, on performance in relation to achieving the goals of the meeting; doing this has been shown to have an impact on performance (Durgin et al., 2014). Meeting notes (minutes) should be distributed within 24-48 hours after the meeting.
Meetings comprise a significant proportion of the workday for those in helping professions and use significant time and human resources. With appropriate planning, management and follow-up, meetings can be both effective and efficient.