Communication: The Key to Effective Leadership

Mary M. McNeil (Chapman University, Orange, California, USA)
Ann I. Nevin (Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona, USA Florida International University, Miami, Florida, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 14 August 2009



McNeil, M.M. and Nevin, A.I. (2009), "Communication: The Key to Effective Leadership", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 47 No. 5, pp. 684-687.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

As twenty‐first century leaders, whether you are a novice or veteran leader, you are likely to be facing challenges that no other leaders have had to face. It is likely that you have searched for leadership theories and practices to help you. Thus, the goal of this book review is to provide sufficient information for you to make an informed decision regarding the book authored by Joe and Judy Pauley entitled, Communication: The Key to Effective Leadership.

The book is tightly written and is organized into ten chapters, including two forewords and an introduction in which the research base for the content is established. We believe the book comes at a crucial time in the history of educational leadership, both in the USA and world wide. Recently, leaders and those whom they are responsible to lead are often unprepared to deal with the complexities of a diverse workforce in which daily crises abound, especially those countless opportunities that require changes at all levels.

The book is not a collection of essays to help leaders feel good about their roles. It is a hard‐driving account of the research‐proven strategies for implementing the Process Communication Model® first articulated by Kahler (1988). In Chapter 1, the Pauleys establish the rationale for why everyone can benefit from this book, that is, “Everyone is a leader to someone.” In An Instructors Guide to The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner (2002, p. vii) resonate strongly with the Pauleys' perspective:

Leadership is not just about leaders. Nor is leadership about some position or place in an organization or community. In today's world – of unrelenting changes in technology, marketplaces, organizational alliances, mergers, and partnerships; of increasing global competitiveness; of accelerating diversity of ideas along with a rainbow coalition of individual backgrounds, beliefs, abilities, and experiences; of continuing reengineering of processes and right‐sizing of organizations and flattening of organizational forums – leadership must be everyone's business.

The next seven chapters provide detailed concepts and practices that help leaders:

  1. 1.

    Organize a team.

  2. 2.

    Establish trust.

  3. 3.

    Inspire confidence.

  4. 4.

    Select the correct interaction style.

  5. 5.

    Get buy‐in.

  6. 6.

    Develop the team.

  7. 7.

    Get results.

The final two chapters focus on topics rarely discussed in the leadership literature:
  1. 1.

    How leaders can recognize when people are in distress and then select strategies that invite them out of distress.

  2. 2.

    How leaders can reduce their own levels of distress.

Each chapter is filled with examples of leaders who have successfully applied the concepts and strategies of process communication.

We are sure that Journal of Educational Administration (JEA) readers are familiar with a range of leadership theorists and practitioners, such as Covey (1992), Deming (1986), Fischer et al. (1991), Fulton (1995), Senge (1994) and Kouzes and Posner (2002). We believe that the prevailing literature focuses on different styles of leadership and emphasizes the importance of communication, but rarely discusses how to make good communication happen and rarely focuses on the impact on the receiver. That is why, we believe that researchers and practitioners at all levels of educational administration are sure to find lots of value when delving into the contents of the Pauleys' book.

Those who have studied and applied principles from Senge (1994) can appreciate the Pauleys' orientation towards values‐centered communications, communications that value the relationships between leaders and those whom they lead. They can identify how Covey's principled centered leadership can be enhanced with the Pauleys' communication tips for team building and inspiring confidence. Moreover, process communication resonates with Senge's systems perspectives, especially with respect to the importance of dialogue which allows a group to access a larger pool of common meaning, which cannot be accessed individually. A familiar part of a leader's role includes making sure that team members can effectively carry out that dialogue, and the Pauleys' pointers help that to happen. JEA readers can appreciate the advice for how to get results, especially within the context of implementing principles of total quality management (Deming, 1986).

In Chapter 2, the Pauleys suggest that (p.11):

[…] wise leaders assess the character strengths needed to achieve their vision and deliberately seek out those persons who have the strengths needed. However, because each of the personality types is different, the leader has to use different strategies to make certain that each person has an opportunity to provide input.

They elaborate on the six personality types, describe how to recognize that type in oneself and others, how to employ specific communication channels to effectively interact with the personality types, how to recognize when the person is in distress and how to use communication strategies to invite that person out of distress.

The Pauleys expand the nature and scope of leadership responsibility to include an understanding of the dynamics of process communication, especially when they illustrate their points with lessons for emerging leaders, particularly in the field of education. For example, the Pauleys state (p. 28):

When team leaders and managers do not individualize the way they interact with their colleagues and employees and do not motivate each according to his or her needs, the employees may show signs of distress that are predictable and observable. Leaders, who know the warning signs to look for and recognize the significance of the behavior when they see it, can quickly intervene to re‐motivate the employee.

We believe that, after reading and applying the tips on individualizing your interaction styles as a leader, readers will better understand why the Pauleys introduce this chapter with Dwight D. Eisenhower's remark (p. 27), “You don't lead by hitting people over the head – that's assault, not leadership.”

Illustrative case studies show how the process communication strategies have worked in particular companies. The compelling stories from people in leadership roles representing diverse organizations, businesses, and companies from both the private and the public sector (including health and human services, education, and the military) provide the greatest inspiration that can lead JEA readers to implementing the Pauleys' keys to effective communication so as to increase their own leadership effectiveness. Cases range in topics near and dear to leaders at all levels, including customer relations, personnel selection, fund raising, and negotiations. Later, in Chapter 6, the Pauleys emphasize the outcomes that can be expected when process communication is implemented (p. 48):

Briefly, stated, if leaders will ensure that every employee gets their motivational needs meet every day, the employees are more likely to stay out of distress and will be much more willing to endorse the need for change and to support a quality program.

This emphasis on ensuring that everyone is helping to accomplish the transformation required in times of change echoes much of Dr Deming's work (see out of the crisis, for example).

The Pauleys do not tread lightly into the turbulent waters that today's leaders face. Rather, they showcase how leaders can effectively address vexing questions such as, “How can I improve my bottom line, my company's net worth?” In fact, we believe that the Pauleys' emphasis on leaders' roles and responsibilities to meet their own psychological needs and to help others get their needs met adds a new dimension to job descriptions for leaders.


Covey, S. (1992), Principle‐Centered Leadership, Free Press, New York, NY.

Deming, W.E. (1986), Out of the Crisis, IT Press, Boston, MA.

Fischer, R., Ury, W. and Patton, B. (1991), Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In, Random House, New York, NY.

Fulton, R. (1995), Common Sense Leadership, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

Kahler, T. (1988), The Mastery of Management, Kahler Communications, Little Rock, AK.

Kouzes, J. and Posner, B. (2002), An Instructor's Guide to the Leadership Challenge, available at: (accessed February 11, 2009).

Senge, P. (1994), The Fifth Discipline, Bantam Doubleday Bell Publishing Group, New York, NY.

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