Why leadership matters to internal communication

This article in the Journal of Public Relations Research provides an interesting insight into why leadership really does matter to internal communication, and how it determines an organisation’s culture:


Leadership at different levels directly or indirectly determines structural forms, organisational 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 organisation 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 organisation. It is relationship-oriented, empowering, and participative by nature and characterised 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 defence 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 organisation’s symmetrical communication system and employee–organisation 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–organisation relationships, which in turn lead to employee advocacy. Effects of symmetrical internal communication on employee advocacy were fully mediated by employee–organisation relationships.

Implications for practice

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

2) Public relations professionals should develop an inherently cross-enterprise and optimised communication system encompassing all leaders, managers, and employees.

3) Internal communication professionals should provide managers with accurate information aligned with organisational 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.

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