Why Leadership Matters to Internal Communication: Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical Communication, and Employee Outcomes

Topic: Leadership Communication

Authors, Title and Publication

Men, L. (2014). Why leadership matters to internal communication: Linking transformational leadership, symmetrical communication, and employee outcomes. Journal of Public Relations Research26(3), 256-279.

Summary

Leadership at different levels directly or indirectly determines structural forms, organizational culture and climate, power distribution, and communication. Different types of leadership advocate different communication styles to influence followers and thus constitute a major component of the internal communication system. This study investigated the effects of transformational leadership (TL) on symmetrical internal communication in an organization and employee outcomes (i.e., employee relational outcomes and employee advocacy). TL motivates followers by appealing to their higher-order needs and induces them to transcend self-interest for the sake of the group or organization. It is relationship-oriented, empowering, and participative by nature and characterized by leaders who articulate a vision, act as role models, express high performance expectations, and provide individual support to employees. Symmetrical communication is a communication worldview and practice marked by its emphasis on trust, credibility, openness, relationships, reciprocity, network symmetry, horizontal communication, feedback, adequacy of information, employee-centered style, tolerance for disagreement, and negotiation. Employee relational outcomes include trust, control mutuality, commitment, and satisfaction. Finally, employee advocacy refers to the voluntary promotion or defense of a company, its products, or its brands by an employee externally.

Results from a survey of 402 employees from a variety of medium- and large-sized corporations demonstrated that TL positively influenced the organization’s symmetrical communication system and employee–organization relationships. The effects of TL on employee relational outcomes were partially mediated by symmetrical internal communication. Symmetrical communication demonstrated a large positive effect on the quality of employee–organization relationships, which in turn lead to employee advocacy. Effects of symmetrical internal communication on employee advocacy were fully mediated by employee–organization relationships.

Implications for Practice

1) Organizations can benefit from a two-way, employee-centered, and responsive symmetrical communication system to guide daily communication practices and optimize employee communication.

2) Public relations professionals should develop an inherently cross-enterprise and optimized communication system encompassing all leaders, managers, and employees. 3) Internal communication professionals should provide managers with accurate information aligned with organizational values and goals; identify, describe, and celebrate role models among employees; offer necessary training sessions to develop TL and leader communication competence; and embrace modern-day changes to equip leaders with an arsenal of communication tools.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/1062726X.2014.908719

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