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Center Ideas: Leadership Communications Supports and Sustains Success

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center offers this blog as the first in a three-part series on communications services and support for state and local education agencies.


When a new leader takes over, expectations are high, the clock is ticking, people are looking for results, and it may seem like everyone wants the leader’s attention. With everything coming at once, how do leaders set a direction, build momentum, and sustain success? Communication.

This year, every state education commissioner in our region exited. As the new leaders take over, effective communication is essential to defining each leader’s priorities and ensuring a smooth transition in each state.

The ways leaders communicate and the words they choose impact staff members, boards of education, parents, and even students. “Motivation, mood, ethical behavior, confidence in the ability to do the job, can all be influenced, as can intentions to whole-heartedly support the organization,” and it’s supported by research.

Communication involves using various strategies and techniques to convey messages, build relationships, and positively influence others. Consider these five leadership communication priorities and how they can support success and stability in your organization:


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    Successful leaders are active and skilled listeners. They pay close attention to what others say, show empathy, and ask clarifying questions. Remember that active listening and showing when you have acted on the information you receive can help build trust and foster open communication within teams. Also, take formal and informal steps to learn how your communication style and methods influence your organization. As business management guru Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t said.”

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    Leaders must understand their organization’s current reality, including how information is shared and how employees are informed, to leverage strengths and make needed improvements. A baseline of knowledge is required to identify strengths, gaps in communication, and areas for improvement. A communications audit is a nonpunitive comprehensive review to learn how your organization currently informs employees and the public. It can provide a state education agency and other organizations with a foundation of information to develop a strong communications program.

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    Leaders must be honest and factual when communicating with staff, the public, and news media. Even when difficult, answer questions straightforwardly and bridge to the additional information you want your audience to have for context and clarity. Soliciting honest feedback is equally important, so turn to your employees and “loving critics” formally and informally to keep you honest.

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    There are more ways to communicate than anyone can implement well. Choose a few communication channels that you can use effectively. Be brief and memorable on email, social media, and even the standard office memo. Your staff will appreciate concise, consistent communication and information sharing.

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    What you say, how you say it, and your actions matter. Leaders who overlook the need to communicate with sensitivity and empathy risk offending the people needed to do the work and alienating others who could be supportive. State education chiefs must build relationships and earn the respect of local superintendents to accomplish state goals, just as school district leaders need the respect and cooperation of principals to accomplish district-level goals.


Leadership communication is an ongoing process of learning, improving, and capacity building. Effective leaders continuously hone their communication skills to lead and inspire their teams, foster collaboration, and achieve organizational goals. They also know asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a strength. 


For more communications tips from the Region 5 Comprehensive Center, be on the lookout for the next blog post in this series ... coming soon or reach out to us directly for capacity-building services. We can help individuals and teams refine and deliver their messages more efficiently and effectively.