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Servant Leadership in the Workplace: Communicating with Clarity

Updated: Mar 10, 2018

Communication: the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.

Communication in the Workplace: ...well, Google gave me 140,000,000 results. So, let's just go with "the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or the workplace."

As a leader, what is the right amount of communication? I was recently at an event where I was speaking with a number of supervisors. There has been a lot of change recently and we were having a facilitated discussion on, "What keeps you up at night." For the one hour we were together, communication continuously came up. Questions around, "What does all of this change mean?" "What is our vision? Where are we going?" and "What am I supposed to tell my staff?" were the focus of this meeting of the minds.

While there are absolutely some change management themes that could be discussed here, I want to keep this focused on an interesting question that I asked the group, "How much communication is enough?" When we pose questions wanting to know the vision and wanting to understand the meaning of certain changes, what will satisfy them? If they are told the vision, does this put the stress of the change to rest? If you are given an answer on why the change was made, will that satisfy your curiosity? Could it be as simple as continuous updates, even if there is no new news? Essentially, at what point will we be satisfied with what we have been told? Now, any information through change is helpful. Experience has shown that implementing change with zero communication can damage an organization.

One of the key components to leader effectiveness is clear communication. According to Irving and Longbotham (2006), communicating with clarity is the ability for a leader to "communicate clear plans and goals for the organization" (p. 9). Farling, Stone, and Winston (1999) argue that "vision is an essential part of servant leadership. Leaders who possess vision are better suited to communicate plans and goals clearly since they speak out of a clear mental picture of where the organization is going" (p. 9).

As I joked in the beginning of the article about the number of responses I received when searching Google for workplace communication, the reality is there are a lot of perspectives on what makes an effective communicator. In my opinion, while those lists can be helpful, I wonder what more we could be doing to improve our communication with our teams. Simply reading an article and applying point 6 on the list of 20 is great, but what does effective / clear communication look like to my team?

Here is some insight on how I have tackled this question:

  1. I asked my staff how they prefer to communicate. Was it face-to-face, via email, via phone? I wanted to understand what their comfort level with direct communication was. On one side, it was so I could build an effective working relationship with that staff member. On the other side, I wanted to know where I could challenge the staff member by helping them develop their skills in communicating in a variety of formats.

  2. I told my team how I preferred to communicate. I prefer the face-to-face method. On many occasions, my team has sent me an email and instead of replying, I go and talk to them. For me, this is a time saver and it is also a chance for me to get up out of my chair :)

  3. I constantly seek feedback. With the number of projects we are managing, I have to make myself ask my team if they have a clear understanding on what we are doing and what our end goals are for that project. Recently, I made a decision relating to a project that I assumed was understood and acceptable by my team. Turns out I was wrong and it caused an issue for them. Instead of placing blame, I simply apologized and asked where the communication breakdown occurred. Once this was identified, we were able to correct the decision and we were able to move on quickly.

  4. I have my team write a mission and vision statement. This is one of my favorite activities. Yes, the organization as a whole has a mission and vision statement, but how does our team fit into the larger picture? Why do we do what we do? If someone were to ask us, "Why is your role important to the organization?" I want to be able to clearly identify what our mission and vision are. Once we, as a team, have agreed on the mission and vision, we make it known. We post it electronically on our team page, we post it in our cubes, and we include it whenever we are doing presentations regarding our team. Why? Because I want everyone to know why we exist and what we are trying to accomplish. The cool take-away of this is that I have seen my team correct behavior and make decisions to ensure they are living the mission we established.

There are always growth opportunities when it comes to communication in the workplace. There is also no shortage of resources available to anyone who wants to gain insight on how they might improve.

In the end, the Servant Leader strives to create an atmosphere where communication is used as a vehicle to grow the effectiveness of a team. So, I ask you: Does your team communicate with clarity? Do they know where they are headed as a team? If the answer to these questions is "No," then I encourage you to be intentional in setting that foundation.

Communication. (n.d.). In Dictionary Online. Retrieved from

Farling, M.L., Stone, A.G., & Winston, B.E. (1999). Servant leadership: Setting the stage for empirical research. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 6, 49-72.

Irving, J. A., & Longbotham, G. J. (2007). Team Effectiveness and Six Essential Servant Leadership Themes: A Regression Model Based on Items in the Organizational Leadership AssessmentInternational Journal of Leadership Studies, 2(2), 98-113.

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