There are many types of leadership communications. Each of them emerges from a leadership action that is communicated from the point of view of the leader—i.e., doing what is beneficial for the organization and the people in it. Leadership communications are designed to engage the listener, gain commitment, and ultimately create a bond of trust between leader and follower. They also do something more: They drive results, enabling leader and follower to work together more efficiently because they understand the issues and know what has to be done to accomplish their goals.
Specifically, leadership messages do one or more of the following:
Affirm organizational vision and mission. These messages let people know where the organization is headed and what it stands for. General George C. Marshall lived and breathed the core values of the U.S. Army. His penchant for preparation prepared the nation for fighting the conflict it did not want to fight—World War II. By giving detailed briefings to Congress, developing a cadre of superior officers, revamping military training, and supporting President Franklin Roosevelt, Marshall mobilized the armed forces to go overseas and defeat the tyrannical powers of the Axis. And later, as secretary of defense, he helped Europe recover economically, socially, and politically through a comprehensive aid program that eventually bore his name, the Marshall Plan.
Drive transformational initiatives, e.g., change! These messages get people prepared to do things differently and give the reasons why. Rich Teerlink, former CEO of Harley-Davidson, spent much of his time at the helm enkindling a passion for the company among dealers, owners, and employees. Part of this passion was rooted in the need to transform Harley from an old-line manufacturer into a modern enterprise in which employees shared in the voice and the vision.
Issue a call to action. These messages galvanize people to rally behind an initiative. They tell people what to do and how to do it. Rudy Giuliani, as mayor of New York City, inherited a city whose citizenry accepted as fact that high crime, social service failures, and city hall ineptitude were part of the social contract. Through a combination of daily meetings with city agencies, public proclamations, and holding people accountable, Giuliani reduced crime, reinvigorated social agencies, and raised citizens' expectations for public servants' performance. Giuliani also prepared himself and his government for prompt response to the horrible events of September 11, in which New York City served as a proud example of civic and individual and collective heroism, stoicism, and eventual healing.
Reinforce organizational capability. These messages underscore the company's strengths and are designed to make people feel good about the organization for which they work. Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, relied upon the people in her organization to build a world-class news organization. Her public comments in the face of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate investigations, and nasty labor struggles at the paper demonstrated her undying commitment to the paper.
Create an environment in which motivation can occur. These messages provide reasons why things are done and create a path of success for people to follow. They also describe the benefits of success, e.g., a more competitive organization, more opportunities for promotion, or increased compensation. Joe Torre, manager of the New York Yankees and winner of four World Series in his tenure, believes that everyone on the team has a role to play. His quiet demeanor, coupled with supportive words and actions, has created an environment in which players feel that they can achieve and strive to do so.
Promote a product or service (and affirm its link to the organization's vision, mission, and values). These messages place what the organization produces within the mission, culture, and values of the organization; e.g., we create products that improve people's lives. Shelly Lazarus, the CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, a leading advertising agency, makes her living using communications to promote the virtues of internationally known brands like IBM and Ford Motor Company. She applies the same commitment to promoting her agency's brand as a place where exceptionally talented people can succeed.