Communicative leadership in practice
All managers’ ability to communicate (not just senior management's) is absolutely crucial to the success of organizations, and their communicative role has changed significantly in recent decades. New ways of organizing and managing businesses place new demands on leadership and communication. The question is whether managers have adapted their communication to the new conditions.
Communicative leadership is about communication between managers and their coworkers, and this communicative task is large and complex. Managers should, of course, be able to communicate about goals and strategies and implement changes, but they should also manage communication in everyday life, i.e., lead meetings, communicate about the department's goals, and follow up on results, be accessible and visible, respond to coworkers' questions, and so on. The list of important communications tasks is long. All managers, regardless of level
Figure 7 The manager’s complex communication responsibility and roles.
and position, also need to be able to develop both teams and individuals, provide feedback, and answer questions. The managers who can handle their extensive and complex communication assignments, who are simply good at communicating, are also the most successful, as they are able to create engagement amongst coworkers, “get the job done,” and reach their goals.
The communications role and conditions of managers
Though the number of communications channels has increased significantly over the past 20 years, with intranets, social media and other digital channels, immediate managers are still most often considered to be the most important channel. Most coworkers consider it important to be able to get information from and communicate with their immediate manager. Nobody else, with the possible exception of colleagues, can create an understanding of how things are connected and give a sense of purpose the same way as a manager can. The immediate manager is, at least in theory, the best at connecting things to the overarching strategic questions and what they mean for each individual coworker. This is clearly shown in research, for example in the research project Communicative Organizations.
In a report from the previously mentioned project written by Charlotte Simons- son, it is stated that “the coworkers are generally . . . satisfied with the manager’s ability to give and receive feedback, support their daily work, and invite dialogue on important issues."28 However, managers were not ranked as highly in their ability to explain the consequences of what they are conveying. In other words, the manager’s role as a sense giver and as a resource in the coworkers’ sensemaking process presents some challenges. This role is central to modern leadership.29 This research also shows that the so-called hamburger managers - middle managers - have an especially hard time explaining information from management to their coworkers. Middle managers often end up in a communicative vortex, and they become just as much receivers as the coworkers are. Middle managers or first-line managers are most often not involved in strategic decisions, and therefore find it difficult to explain what they mean for the organization. Instead of being given good conditions to understand and interpret information, strategic and otherwise, themselves, these managers are often left in the dark. Consequently, they cannot answer questions from their coworkers. Sometimes middle managers even avoid talking about strategic information as they do not feel that they understand it themselves. By avoiding explaining and discussing strategic issues with coworkers, they can avoid appearing ignorant or unknowledgeable in front of their teams.
The immediate manager's capacity to communicate is still meaningful and is becoming increasingly important with other actors such as top management and colleagues. At the same time, we see that more general communication about strategy and goals, for example through channels like the intranet, are becoming increasingly important for coworker engagement and understanding - sometimes even more important than the immediate manager. Many coworkers are well informed, active and motivated to create their own understanding of what is happening and affecting the organization - and can in that way relate to the central strategic communication, even without help from their immediate manager.
As an increasing number of organizations are structured in matrices or working in networks and projects, which places demands on collaboration between colleagues across different functions, coworkers’ insights and understandings of what is happening and how much internal and external factors can affect the company or operations are also increasing.
If top management is good at taking on their responsibility for communications and communicating effectively about goals and strategies, then they contribute to creating a holistic understanding for coworkers, allowing the coworkers to draw their own conclusions about how the big picture is connected to their own tasks. Unfortunately, top management is often the missing link in many organizations’ communication systems.