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Leadership Forum: Walking the talk to effective communication

Human resource professionals with expertise in administering and analyzing workplace-satisfaction surveys have identified trust and confidence in top leadership as key and reliable predictors of employee contentment with their organizations.

June 6, 2008 
By E. David Hodgins

edavidhodginsHuman resource professionals with expertise in administering and analyzing workplace-satisfaction surveys have identified trust and confidence in top leadership as key and reliable predictors of employee contentment with their organizations. Experts in organizational development assert that effective communication in three critical areas is the key to creating trust and confidence in the workplace. They are: Ensuring employees identify with the organization’s overall business strategy; Ensuring employees recognize how they contribute to achieving key business unit objectives; Sharing information with employees on both how the organization is doing and how an employee's unit is doing relative to strategic business objectives.

Research identifies that many of the problems that occur in an organization are the direct result of poor and/or negative communication. Bad communication leads to confusion or opposition and this leads to failure at many levels. There are two components involved in communication: content and context. The content is the subject matter and the context is the statement or environment that surrounds a particular word or event that determines its meaning. Content and context can be the cause for misunderstanding the message. In reality, we tend to believe what we see, such as the leader’s actions, not what we hear.

Prussian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that the way we think and the way we behave are directly related to the way we talk. If his opinion is correct, individuals interested in becoming capable leaders need to understand the importance and impact of their words. Messages based on positive language are a good leadership tool when used at the right time and place. In all languages there are more words to describe negative feelings than to describe positive opinions. The ratio is about five to three. This means that for three positive words you hear, you'll probably hear five negative words. The challenge for leaders is to be in command of their thoughts and behaviours so that constructive content becomes instinctive. 

To become a trusted and successful leader you must create a positive environment. That starts with your choice of thoughts and words. To do this: You must keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words; You must keep your words positive because your words become your actions; You must keep your actions positive because your actions become your values; And you must keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.


This is much more difficult than it sounds. Here is a well-known list of the most important words (author unknown):

The six most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.” 
The five most important words: “You did a good job.”
The four most important words: “What is your opinion?”
The three most important words: “If you please.” 
The two most important words: “Thank you,”
The one most important word: “We”
And the least most important word: “I”.

Communication tools and even language have changed drastically in the past few years. As leaders, our challenge is to ensure that we adapt and find ways to incorporate what’s new and not have it negatively impact messaging. New words and terms are being fabricated daily to describe contemporary systems. These words influence our interaction with others, positively or negatively.

This is especially true in the field of advanced technology. A recent case in point: Sony’s Blu-ray DVD product has won the battle, beating out the Toshiba’s HD DVD product. The marketing gurus tell us that Sony’s brilliant use of the term Blu-ray made the difference.  Consider the prolific use of cellphones and the fact that millions of people are “texting.” The term “textonym” is now being used to describe word use and a new language that has been created. A few examples of textonyms that are part of cellphone speak are: gr8 (great); lol (laugh out loud); and Idk (I don’t know).

Here’s a new term: “Seagull leadership.” It’s a negative one. You don’t want to be a seagull leader. They fly in, make a lot of noise, crap on everything, and then leave. 

To end on a positive note, effective leaders are effective communicators who gain the respect and trust of employees. This leads to approval and support, which translates into a successful organization.

David Hodgins is the managing director, Alberta Emergency Management Agency. He is a former assistant deputy minister and fire commissioner for British Columbia. A 30-year veteran of the fire service, he is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s public administration program and a certified emergency and disaster manager. E-mail:

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