Headshot of Debra DavenportFive Traits of Effective Leadership: A Guide for Communication Professionals

Debra Davenport, Faculty

Leadership is, without question, the most critical aspect of an organization. A leader’s vision, values, personality and behaviors directly impact every department, employee and organizational function. Further, how the leader communicates his/her vision affects both internal and external audiences.  In short, the quality of leadership determines the quality of the organization overall.

Strategic communicators can have a powerful influence on leaders and their performance. In my own practice, my consulting time is split almost equally between public relations and executive/organizational development. The reality is, if a leader is not exceptionally effective, there are going to be perceptual management issues with employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders. This is why I encourage my strategic communications students to expand their fund of knowledge to include executive coaching and organizational development. The positive impact that we can make with our clients when we engage them in more comprehensive conversations is both measurable and dramatic.

    As your clients’ “ethical compass,” you can help to ensure that the leaders with whom you work embrace and exemplify five key leadership traits:

1. Transparency

A willingness to be open, straightforward, and forthcoming with information is essential for organizational wellness and positive public perception. Employees and audiences alike lose trust very quickly if they sense any level of subterfuge – and that trust can be extremely difficult to regain once it’s been compromised.

2. Accountability

By now, my students have memorized my mantra, “The buck stops at the CEO’s desk.” No matter the organizational issue, it is the leader’s responsibility to step up and be accountable. Too many times, organizational crises are exacerbated by leaders who use blame-shifting, denial, or the inexcusable “No comment.” These behaviors were (painfully) displayed during the Costa Concordia and Chipotle crises.    

3. Integrity

Any leader who lacks integrity must be viewed with scrutiny. Communicators should at least be aware of critical issues such as leader psychopathy and hypomania, both of which can wreak havoc on organizations, their brands, and their reputations. Remember, a healthy leader possesses a healthy conscience.

4. Expertise

This trait likely goes without saying, but I have encountered many leaders over the years who lacked the requisite skills, knowledge, and attributes to perform successfully. In one particular instance, my role morphed quickly from PR counselor to executive coach; my responsibilities broadened from managing perceptions to culling a cadre of experts and specialists (similar to an advisory board) upon whom the leader could lean while he pursued his own professional development.

5. Empathy

This essential “soft skill” is often misunderstood and even maligned. Empathetic leaders are far from being “touchy-feely” pushovers. Empathy is actually a key aspect of emotional intelligence, and it is a powerful component of a healthy organizational culture. Empathy is defined as “the feeling that [one] understands and shares another person's experiences and emotions” (Merriam-Webster). From an organizational perspective, this leader attribute can positively impact employee morale, performance, motivation, and attitude (here is a link to an informative report from the Ken Blanchard Companies: http://bit.ly/1H7UdzS).  

As a final point, professional communicators must understand that their reputations are often tied closely to those of their clients. Therefore, it is certainly in a practitioner’s best interest to ensure that clients meet their own standards for ethics, values, integrity, and exemplary leadership.

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Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

About the Author
Debra Davenport is the president and CEO of Davenport Public Relations, a full-service firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles. She is a faculty member with Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication where she teaches in the Strategic Communication masters program.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.

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