When the perceived role and the expected role are incongruent, conflict can occur both between the leader and his followers, and within himself. This can result in a slowdown in production, a lowering of morale and resistance to changes that the leader may be trying to implement (Robbins & Judge, 2007).
According to Shafritz & Ott (2005) an organization is essentially a tool that people use to coordinate their actions as a means of achieving their goals. Often, the attainment of these goals requires some form of negotiation. Negotiating conflict is the area of leadership communication that can be the most problematic because if matters are not handled correctly, the conflicts can escalate until they are no longer under control. Leaders who are not attentive to their employees' needs and desires are not very likely to have a happy and productive workforce (Shafritz & Ott, 2005). Thus communication is ultimately about action.
According to Northouse (2010) the following components can be identified as a central to a phenomenon a) Leadership is a process, b) Leadership involves influence, c) Leadership occurs is a group context, and d) Leadership involves goal attainment. Thus, leaders not only need to communicate their vision effectively to others, but they need to make sure that their actions are aligned with the vision they have communicated. By developing a solid and obtainable vision and communicating the components of the vision effectively, leaders are helping to create a sense of understanding in the employees by letting them in on the 'why's' and 'how's' instead of just the 'what's' and 'when's'.
According to Frese, Beimel and Schoenborn (2003), including employees in the decision-making process and the implementation of new ideas is a type of 'action-communication' that has been shown to be extremely successful. By including the employees in this process, a powerful coalition has been formed that will see employees working to make the change succeed instead of fighting to make it fail. This is because employees feel empowered to act when they feel they are an integral part of the machine. When they are merely being dictated to, they are much more likely to be resistant. The more employees feel involved, the more likely it is that morale will be boosted, especially if the employees are able to see the successes of the changes in small doses, which allows them to envision the overall success of the change in the future. Therefore, as Mayfield and Mayfield (2006) suggests, it is critical to reiterate the goals and components of the plan regularly, in order to consolidate the change and to keep employees informed and motivated. Once the initial tasks have been accomplished, new approaches can be implemented smoothly and effectively.
Applicable Theories of Leadership
Understanding how to communicate effectively as a leader requires at least some knowledge of the major theories of leadership. Transformational Leadership, Transactional Leadership and Conflict Management are three theories that school leaders need to be familiar with in order to communicate effectively.
The task of communicating effectively can be facilitated through the use of transformational leadership. The theory of transformational leadership was originally developed by Bernard Bass in 1985. It centers on the relationship between the leader and his or her followers and the extent to which they are able to align their goals, values and beliefs. It is also a proactive model, meaning that it is based on putting ideas into action rather than simply postulating about them (Kent & Chelladurai, 2001). Bass described the transformational leader as a person who uses his or her communication skills to inspire followers to exceed their own expectations, to consider the objectives of the group or the community rather than their own well-being, and to become conscious of things that are important.
To outline the qualities of a successful transformational leader, Bass (1985) developed the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ). Using 177 senior officers in the U.S. military for his study, Bass (1985) analyzed the MLQ and identified five leadership qualities of a transformational leader: (a) charismatic leadership, where the charismatic leader has a special talent that earns respect and admiration from followers; (b) idealized influence, where the leader expresses his or her vision to the followers; (c) inspiration, where the leader expresses what he or she expects from the followers; (d) intellectual stimulation, where the leader encourages creativeness in the followers; and (e) individualized consideration, where the leader focuses on the growth of the followers.
Years later, Bass and Avolio (1994) conducted a study on transformational leadership characteristics that compared male and female managers. Bass and Avolio presented the profile of a female manager who took charge in any given situation, gained the trust and respect of her peers and coworkers, and cared about the desires of each person. Although both men and women viewed women as being more supportive and fulfilling as leaders, the glass ceiling may thwart the advancement of women to leadership positions and not make use of their full potential as leaders (Bass & Avolio).
According to Freese et al. (2003) "Bass described idealized influence and inspiration as two aspects of transformational leadership (which, in addition, comprises intellectual stimulation and individual consideration)." Effective communication can facilitate each of these factors in that it influences and inspires people to work hard and succeed, and it also stimulates them intellectually as individuals.
Transactional Leadership is an offshoot of transformational leadership that encourages leaders to "guide or motivate their followers in the direction of established goals by clarifying role and task requirements" (Robbins & Coulter, 2005, p. 433). Essentially, transactional leadership is about rewarding employees for their hard work and dedication, with the hopes that this will motivate them to perform at their optimum level (Goodwin, Wofford & Whittington, 2001). It is as if there is a transaction that occurs between the employer and the employee that is much like any other business transaction that involves an exchange. For example a leader might exchange more flexible working schedules for going the extra mile. This is a transaction that benefits both the leader and the follower.
Because transactional leadership is only a branch of transformational leadership, it is not considered to be as effective on its own without the other qualities of transformational leadership. However despite being a derivative, transactional leadership has its own set of qualities. Bass (1985) analyzed the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) and identified three of the most important leadership qualities of a transactional leader, which are: (a) contingent reward, where the leader manages reward and punishment, where appropriate; (b) management by exception (active), where the leader oversees any changes in the behavior of the followers; and (c) management by exception (passive), where the leader looks for changes in the behavior of the followers (Bass, 1985).
Gellis (2001) conducted a study to determine the perceptions of transactional and transformational leadership within hospital settings that were undergoing major changes in their service delivery as a result of reforms in health care coverage. A total of 187 respondents from 26 different hospitals in large cities were surveyed using the MLQ. Although Bass only identified three subscales for transactional leadership, Gellis added a fourth, laissez-faire which "measures the absence or avoidance of leadership" (p. 18). The results showed that "all five transformational factors and one transactional factor [contingent reward] were significantly correlated with leader outcomes of effectiveness, satisfaction, and extra effort" (p. 17). Contributing to these outcomes was also the leader's ability to manage conflict.
Communication, and in particular, negotiation is critical to effectively managing conflict. According to Corvette (2007) there are several different negotiating styles that leaders tend to practice. Some leaders are accommodating and are willing to compromise, others are cooperative and collaborative, while others are dictatorial and inflexible. In a realistic sense it is very difficult to give both sides what they want without either side giving up something they want. Therefore most negotiations end in compromise because usually there has to be some sort of concession in order to reach a solution. Searching for that perfect solution in which everybody gets what they want could result in a perpetual standstill.
If it is true, as the Robbins & Judge (2007) professes, that "the whole is more than the sum of the parts" (p. 291) then managing conflict requires a group analysis, and that a group analysis must begin with the influence of individual attitudes. Communication strategies often need to be tailored to meet the different dynamics of groups vs. individuals because individuals may react differently if they are in the company of their peers. Therefore, leaders need to take into account the effect that peer influence can have on the communication strategy, as well as what type of impact the vulnerability of being in a one-on-one type of communication can have. Ultimately, for a leader to communicate successfully, he must be adept at tailoring his words and actions to appeal to both groups…