To speak or not to speak – How do great educational leaders communicate?
By
Dr. Julie Wallace

Although all organizations have extensive communication within them, how often do we receive training or schooling on how to communicate well? Whether we realize it or not leadership communication styles in educational environments utilize frameworks and theories. When we become aware of those frameworks we can be more intentional about our communication style and practice foster healthy communication styles.

Leaders who exercise shared decision making empower their staff to help make decisions in comparison to autocratic leaders who make unilateral decisions for the group. There are three key questions the leader when considering making a decision unilaterally or collaboratively.

1. How accepting is the staff to autocratic decisions?

2. How capable is the leader in making the decision on his or her own?

3. What expertise is needed to make an informed decision?

The educational leader must determine the acceptance or resistance from the staff concerning the decision to be made. Resistance from the staff can increase organizational politics and exacerbate the presence of power coalitions. Two excellent guiding questions in determining a unilateral decisional approach is to apply two tests.

1. Test of relevance – Is the decision going to impact staff members directly or indirectly?

2. Test of expertise – Do any of the staff have expertise that will add to the quality of the decision?

It is wise to include staff in a collaborative manner in decisions where they will make an impact on the quality of the decision. Some decisions should be made collaboratively; other decisions may be made unilaterally.

The development of formal communication structures promotes understanding, cohesiveness, and most importantly trust in the organization. Although informal structures will always exist (gossip and grape-vine informal communication) they become more significant if there are inadequacies in the formal communication structure. People in the organization will tend to avoid formal routes of communication if those avenues are unhealthy or are untrustworthy. Effective listening is an important component in team building. Furthermore, attending, questioning, encouraging, paraphrasing, reflecting, and summarizing are all techniques that encourage positive, open, trusting, and productive communication.

All decisions should be made through the lens of fulfilling the goals of the organization. Leaders who foster open, honest, and trustworthy communication impact and transform organizations and communities into healthy, dynamic, productive environments.