– by Santie von Below

Words are part of the package that leaders present. When followers see a new leader, his or her image immediately forms an expectation of what type of words they can expect. Are all followers not inherently seeking words that carry power, creating order and describing beauty? Once a leader opens his or her mouth, expectations can be fulfilled or it can shattered.

Words are like a bird’s feathers: drop them and they can never be inserted again. The leader’s commands empowers followers to obedience and holds them accountable to the leader. In this process of creating and fulfilling mutual understanding and simultaneous building the organisation, relationships are formed. Relationships are a key to leader effectiveness and communication is the key to relationships.

Communication reveals character. A leader of credible character creates confidence in followers. It inspires followers to excellence. Words of affirmation build up, instil values and virtues and direct in righteousness.

Does a war not start when communication stops? Wars, including verbal fights, are degrading and come at a cost. Forgiveness, reconciliation and strategic progress can only be done with communication. Sustainable leader effectiveness calls for authentic communication. It starts with true self communication. In order to have a strong foundation from which to lead, it is imperative that the leader have personal clarity on core values, identity, emotions, motives, goals and true self (Northouse, 2016). 

When words and actions match, integrity is instilled. The mature communicator exercises balanced processing of feedback (Northouse, 2016). Effective leaders strive towards relational transparency that speak respectfully about core feelings, motives and abilities (Kernis, 2003).

The degree to which emotions can be processed and contextualised with cognitive abilities, is the emotional intelligence coefficient. It is conveyed through the choice of words and the manner in which they are presented. If you feel you are losing it… choose your words carefully.

Effective leaders know that language is their most tangible tool for achieving a desired outcome (Fairhurst & Sarr). Even babies know this, when their primary needs have to be fulfilled, they cry! Severe psychological damage is caused to babies when those needs are not met. If these needs are met, growth is guaranteed.

Effective leadership can likewise be scrutinised and effective communication would be found. Appropriate choice of words, eye contact, “speaking with” more than “speaking to”, clarity of commands, controlled tone of voice and sincerity are all elements of effective communication and thus of effective leadership. The right results come from the right words. The right words are those that stir followers into action because their hearts were touched.  This is where they will hear the echoes of legendary leaders’ words. To the extent that it equals wisdom for them, that is the true measurement of a leader’s effectiveness – words of wisdom that create effectiveness in future generation leaders. 

The role of communication in leader effectiveness is ultimately made visible in the leadership of Jesus Christ, the Word. His words create transformation from darkness to light, from hurt to healing, from fear to love and from death to eternal life. Effectiveness with eternal consequences await those leaders who accept and obey the words of the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 4:12-16
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”


Buzzell, S., Boa, K. & Perkins, B. (1998). The Leadership Bible. Leadership Principles from God’s Word. Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan
Fairhurst, G.T. & Sarr, R.A. (1996). The art of framing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Kernis, M.H. (2003). Toward a conceptualisation of optimal self-esteem. Psychological Inquiry, 14, p.1-26
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership theory & practice. Los Angeles: Sage