To read this content please select one of the options below:

Whither the bully pulpit: leadership communications and corporate transformation

Peter Buell Hirsch (Adjunct Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Baruch College, City University of New York, New York, NY, USA)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 17 November 2014




This paper aims to look at some classic business leader communications to assess which ones succeed and which ones fail to meet that standard. From Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, from Churchill to Lady Thatcher, we have grown used to the idea that the words of our leaders in times of crisis can change history. Is this also true of business leaders? Can their words transform companies?


The paper looks at specific leadership communications examples from IBM, Nokia, Starbucks, as well as McKinsey research, to try to tease out the elements of successful leadership communications in company transformations.


What we found is that successful leadership communications in culture transformations share four principal characteristics: they are authentic to the personality of the leader; they are not one-time communications, but the beginnings of a cascade; they are personally relevant to each individual employee; and they are quickly followed by visible actions springing from the strategic direction set by the leader’s communications.

Research limitations/implications

As a subjective review of a limited number of cases, the elements selected are potentially vulnerable to counter-examples.

Practical implications

The four characteristics of leadership communications isolated in the research can be applied by any corporate leader or communications team to create effective communications in the context of culture transformation.

Social implications

To the extent that corporate leaders adopt these principles, their communications will be more credible to external stakeholders and, by extension, enhance the reputation of business leaders as a whole.


While this subject has been studied by others, the four principles for successful leadership communications have not been articulated in this way before to the best of the author’s knowledge.



Hirsch, P.B. (2014), "Whither the bully pulpit: leadership communications and corporate transformation", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 35 No. 6, pp. 66-70.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles