5 Types of Leadership Communication

Communication by Krossbow, on Flickr

Photo Credit: Communication, by Krossbow, Flickr

In a previous blog post I highlighted 7 Levels of Leadership Communication. In this post I will highlight 5 Types of Leadership Communication.

As leaders, communication is a central skill for accomplishing the goals and outcomes our organizations desire. We are tempted to view communication in very monolithic ways such as COMMUNICATION = TALKING. However, in the flow of leadership, communication is more nuanced than this. Yes, it includes talking, but there are other types and levels at which communication does and must take place.

Here are 5 categories or types of leadership communication.

1 — Verbal & Nonverbal

The first type of communication is verbal and nonverbal. Whether you want to or not, as a leader you are always communicating. This may be happening with your words, or it may be happening with your nonverbal cues. How many times have you been in a meeting with someone who is constantly looking at their watch or looking out the window rather than paying attention to the conversation in which they are engaged? Such nonverbal cues communicate powerfully. They powerfully communicate disinterest and lack of engagement.

As leaders, both our verbal and nonverbal communication matter immensely. What are you communicating with your words? What are you communicating with your nonverbal cues? Is there continuity or discontinuity in these threads of communication?

2 — Intentional & Unintentional

Communication may be verbal or nonverbal. It also may be intended or unintended on the part of the leader. This is the second type—intentional and unintentional communication. Saying the thing we wish to say, in the way we wish to say it, at the time we wish to say it is one example of intentional communication. But it does not always work this way in leadership. Sometimes we unintentionally say the wrong thing, in the wrong manner, or at the wrong time. Other times we may unintentionally communicate conflicting messages—saying one one with our words intentionally and another message with our actions non-verbally.

Our intentional and unintentional communication are both important. What are you communicating intentionally? Are you aware of what is communicated unintentionally?

3 — Conscious & Unconscious

The third type of communication is conscious and unconscious. This third type of communication builds on the above foci. Verbal, nonverbal, intentional, and unintentional communication can take place either consciously or unconsciously. I may be communicating something both nonverbally and unintentionally, but still be aware of it. The real challenge to leaders is that which is communicated unconsciously. This takes intentional effort to address. Such effort may take the form of inviting others to observe us and give us feedback. Unconscious communication may support our leadership goals, or they may be working against us. Others can help us pay attention to our approach to communication.

The discussion of conscious and unconscious communication relates to a concept known as the Johari Window. The blind spot and unknown quadrants in the table below represent unconscious areas. When we are communicating at these levels, especially when we communicate negatively, it is important to invite the feedback of others so that we may raise these areas to the conscious level and proactively improve the leadership message communicated.

Johari Window image, from Wikipedia

Johari Window image, from Wikipedia

4 — Action & Inaction

The fourth type of communication is action and inaction. As with the above types of communication, effective leadership communication practice must pay attention to both action and inaction. Kouzes and Posner emphasize the priority of modeling the way in their book The Leadership Challenge. Modeling the way is an example of positive action communicating a desired leadership message. However, inaction also communicates powerfully. For example, if a leader consistently avoids confronting unhelpful or unethical behavior on a team, this inaction communicates a powerful  and negative message to other team members seeking healthy and ethical team performance.

How are you communicating as a leader through your actions? What leadership messages are communicated through your inaction? What needs to change in light of these observations?

5 — Head & Heart            

The final type I’ll note is head and heart communication—communication at both the cognitive and affective levels. This distinction acknowledges that leaders communicate both cognitively and affectively. They communicate at both the level of the head and the heart. Challenges arise when leaders are communicating at one level while followers need another. In some ways, this distinction relates to the dimensions of intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation within transformational leadership theory. At times, followers may be need affective, heart-oriented, and inspirational motivation from their leader. Challenges arise when leaders communicate in just the opposite manner—communication at the cognitive, head-oriented, and intellectual level. Leaders must look not only to what needs to be said and how they as leaders need to say it. Leaders must also look to how followers and organizational members need to hear a message.

Do you tend to communicate more cognitively or affectively? Are you emphasizing your personal communication style preference in this area as a leader, or are you providing your community and followers with the type and style of communication that they need? Thinking of the head-heart category of leadership communication is one approach for adjusting to follower needs.

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In light of the 5 Types of Leadership Communication noted above, what areas are your strengths? Which types are your growth edges? Are you inviting trusted friends and peers to give you feedback on how you communicate with others and how you may grow as a leadership communicator?

I’d love to hear how you approach navigating the complexities of leadership communication. Share your thoughts when you get a chance.

 

 

7 Levels of Leadership Communication

Communication

Photo Credit: Communication, by elycefeliz, Flickr

 

Effective leadership and effective communication are intimately connected. I often tell students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.”

For some of you, this is energizing. For others—perhaps those who do not like public speaking—this can sound intimidating. But whether we like it or not, effective communication is vital for effective leadership.

It is important to remember, however, that communication takes many forms, uses many mediums, and happens at many levels. While some leaders excel at public forms of communication such as plenary speaking or communication through mass media, others excel at interpersonal forms of dyadic and small group communication.

As leaders, the key is to know our strengths and growth edges as leadership communicators.

Here is quick list of 7 Levels of Leadership Communication that you may use to think through strengths and growth edges in your leadership communication practice:

  1. Intrapersonal Communication — The level of Intrapersonal Communication easy to miss in communication discussions. Intra-personal communication focuses on what is happening at the level of self-leadership. Before you are able to effective communicate with others, the leadership message must be clear to you. The level of intrapersonal reflection and dialogue is focused engaging clarity of thought before engaging clarity of communication. A strong intrapersonal communication supports strong interpersonal communication.
  2. Interpersonal Communication — Moving from intrapersonal communication to interpersonal communication highlights the importance of others in the communication process. Communication is not just about the message sent. It is about the message received. This necessitates understanding the other in the communication process. The following levels help think about the other on multiple levels.
  3. Dyadic Communication Dyadic Communication focus on the dyad of two people. How are you doing at this level of communication? As a leader, are you able to sit down with another individual and effective communicate your leadership message? Are you able to effective listen to the needs of others? Are you able to effectively connect these felt needs with the visionary direction of the organization?
  4. Small Group or Team Communication Small Group/Team Communication takes communication to the next level beyond just two individuals. Are you able to effectively work with small groups of individuals in your organization? Are you able to communicate in such a way that helps the team coalesce around a common vision? Effective leadership communication at the team level also must pay attention to working through and weathering potential storms of conflict.
  5. Divisional or Organizational Communication — Moving beyond the team level, organizational leaders also need to think about communication internally within the organization at the divisional and macro organizational level. Are you able to cast a compelling vision through Organizational Communication? Are you able to use multiple pathways of formal and informal communication to reinforce the central organizational values and goals?
  6. Public or External Communication — Organizational leaders not only need to think about communication within their organizations, but also Public/External Communication beyond the metaphorical walls of the organization. How are you as an external leadership communicator? Are you mindful of the various constituencies that have a vested interest in your organization? Are you finding communication channels that not only work for you, but also work for your target audience? Effective public or external communication helps to expand your organization’s influence in new arenas.
  7. Mass Communication — Finally, Mass Communication is an extension of public/external communication using methods from disciplines such as advertising, journalism, broadcasting, and public relations. Organizational leaders often are not experts in these areas. Because of this, effective leadership communicators at this level often partner with internal or external coaches to help guide effective mass communication for advancing the organization’s message.

Although few leaders excel at all of these levels of leadership communication, this list provides a helpful checklist for thinking through strengths and growth edges in your own leadership communication journey.