Leadership and Communication in the Information Age

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Introduction

Effective communication is a central component of successful leadership. However, communication methods used in today’s digital information age have resulted in a number of challenges for leaders. The purpose of this paper is to explore how communication strategies differ based on factors such as age and generational influences. Following this analysis, a reflection will be provided regarding how these conclusions were drawn. This essay concludes with a brief summary and outline of key points. 

Part One: Communication and Age

Multiple communications and leadership researchers (e.g., Barrett, 2009; Orbe, 2011) have suggested that the communication strategies used by today's leaders are largely dependent upon their age. According to these researchers, the style, voice, and mediums used to communicate are typically a result of environmental influences such as technology, the media, and current events (Barrett, 2009). Furthermore, supporters of this view assert that leaders who fail to adapt to modern technological advances experience difficulty communicating with members of younger generations (Barrett, 2009). Unfortunately, this lack of communication can be a source of numerous problems in every professional discipline. 

I would tend to agree with those who suggest leadership and communication is dependent on the environment, and the style in which leaders choose to communicate differs vastly from generation to generation. Just upon viewing famous speeches from previous generations, one can observe significant differences in both the verbal and non-verbal communication used by various leaders. For example, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address (Roosevelt, 1933) utilized a very patriotic and uplifting style of communication, which was necessary for a country that found itself in the midst of economic and political turmoil. President Roosevelt also spoke very authoritatively about what was required for each citizen in order to pull itself from its troubled state (Roosevelt, 1933). While known for his charm and affability, President Roosevelt was also skilled at expressing his leadership and superior status to his subordinates (Barrett, 2009). 

Conversely, current President Barack Obama's First Inaugural address rang of camaraderie and brevity (Orbe, 2011). For a country that seemed to be increasingly divided politically, President Obama's communication style helped promote a feeling of solidarity amongst the American people (Orbe, 2011). As opposed to the more authoritative leadership and communication styles of past Presidents such as Roosevelt, Obama's transformational style is much more relevant to modern American citizens.

One of the primary reasons communication styles have changed is access to information and the ever-increasing role of technology in modern society. While former President Roosevelt's fireside chats were among the first consistent efforts to communicate directly with the American people through the use of technology, citizens can now access sound bites, interviews, and video clips within seconds via the Internet (Barrett, 2009). Any speech, quote, or gesture expressed by leaders such as President Obama is subject to an exponentially greater level of scrutiny than Presidents of the past. Therefore, it is now more important than ever for these leaders to express themselves in a way that is non-offensive, diplomatic, and appealing to multiple political and cultural viewpoints (Barrett, 2009). 

While considerable differences exist in the way leaders communicate now compared to several generations ago, there are universal communication skills that will likely always apply. According to cite, the ability to deliver clear, concise messages will always be an important component of leadership, regardless of the technological medium. Furthermore, the effective use of verbal, paravaerbal, and nonverbal messages will always contribute to a more successful communication style than those that omit one or more of these components (Barrett, 2009). Finally, Shannon and Weaver's (1949) classic model of communication is one that has stood the test of time, and will likely always apply. This model suggests that communication occurs through a five-step process, involving: a source; transmitter; channel; receiver; and destination (Shannon & Weaver, 1949). Regardless of whether a conversation occurs electronically or in person, this model aptly describes how effective communication occurs and can help guide leaders of all generations. 

Part Two: Reflection

The conclusions reached in this paper were drawn from multiple aspects of the writing process. The prewriting process consisted of conducting research related to the topic at hand and creating an outline to effectively express this information. A draft was then completed and analyzed for improvement. Areas in which research or content was lacking were enhanced with additional resources or restructuring, and the draft was once again edited for clarity and accuracy. Upon considering the process in which these conclusions were drawn, it is clear that the prewriting step is likely the most important determinant of an efficacious essay. I found that comparing two notable leaders proved to be an effective way of comparing communication styles between different generations, and this structure allowed for further discussion about technological differences from one generation to the next. Upon conducting research and brainstorming ideas, I also discovered new content that I had not considered applying to this essay prior to beginning. For example, I was unaware that President Roosevelt was the first President to attempt to communicate directly with American citizens through technology. By spending significant time in the prewriting stage, I found that organizing and writing the remaining components of the essay were relatively simple.   

Conclusion

The purpose of this essay was to explore how communication and leadership styles change with age. As a result of environmental differences, communication styles and mediums experience consistent transformation with time. Successful leaders are those who can capitalize on these modern communication mediums in order to get their message across. However, several universal communication skills will likely always apply. Understanding how to balance traditional communication styles with more modern needs is often the difference between successful and unsuccessful leadership. 

References

Barrett, D. (2009). Leadership communication (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Orbe, M. P. (2011). Communication realities in a "post-racial" society. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books. 

Roosevelt, F. D. (1933). Inaugural address. In The Public Papers of Franklin D Roosevelt, Volume Two: The Year of the Crisis, 1933 (pp. 11-16). New York, NY: Random House. 

Shannon, C. E. & Weaver, W. (1949). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.