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Transforming Organizations
The key relationship of communications and public relations.
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 by Dan Eller & Patrick Faverty

Dan EllerPublic and private organizations look to convey communications both internally and externally through their public relations efforts. Unfortunately, the process of communications can be held within the organization by a power struggle where top management tries to exert control over what is being communicated and by who is directing the communication efforts. 

Patrick FavertyAccording to Fairhurst and Zoller, “the exercise of power in organizations never achieves total control” (as cited in Banks, 2008, p. 141). This lack of total power control is not only impossible in controlling communications, but it is not an effective approach to communications within an organization. The practice of controlling communications tightly does not allow for effective internal and external two-way symmetrical communications. Two-way symmetrical communication allows an organization to influence others through a self-interest appeal highlighting share values (Eller & Sturm, 2013; Guth & Marsh, 2010). Also, non-symmetrical communication can foster gossip in and outside the organization that can lead to speculation, half-truths, and lies that can hurt the communication process and the organization as a whole. 

Furthermore, the lack of open communication from within an organization has a negative impact on the management of the organization, and ultimately does not allow for a transparent model of communications in the agency. As Redmund (2011) noted, “a fast-changing world demands self-awareness among its leaders, particularly those who manage communications in an increasingly transparent environment” (p. 40).
Leadership is fundamental to improving (emphasis added) groups, organizations, and society and communication is fundamental to leadership. Leadership is an interactive process through which leaders and followers develop an effective approach to collective goals. Increasing understanding of the leadership process and the communication involved enhances the skills of all participants and fosters more effective collaboration.  Nonetheless, for our purposes here we must also focus on the function of improvement as a leadership commitment.  Our study explored the differences in the leadership beliefs behaviors most often identified as either transactional or transformational leadership.
According to Hackman and Johnson (2009) communication is an integral part of both the internal and external process of leaders.  Leaders must face many obstacles and challenging situations.  As they personally deal with issues they make decisions that affect their lives and the lives of others. Intrapersonal communication plays an important role in the decision making process and for personal development of the leader. It is this internal belief system of the leader that determines his/her leadership style – whether it be primarily transactional or transformational.
According to Burns (2008), transactional leaders focus on increasing the efficiency of established routines and procedures and are more concerned with following existing rules than with making changes to the structure of the organization.  They also are concerned more with clearly designed organizational processes rather than forward-thinking ideas.  Basically, transactional leadership styles are more concerned with maintaining the normal flow of operations.
James MacGregor Burns (2008) further distinguished between transactional leaders and transformational leaders by explaining that: transactional leaders exchange tangible rewards for the work and loyalty of followers.
Transformational leaders on the other hand are leaders who engage with followers, focus on higher order intrinsic needs, and raise consciousness about the significance of specific outcomes and new ways in which those outcomes might be achieved.  A transformational leader goes beyond managing day-to-day operations and crafts strategies for taking his organization to the next level of performance and success.
Case Study – Communications in the Public Sector
As the former Director of Communications in a public state agency on the central coast of California, one of the researchers of this study spent the past two decades overseeing and counseling the state agency management on the internal and external communications efforts.  In this role, it allowed the researcher to oversee the public relations office and the duties included disseminating communications regarding the agency to fellow employees, media, and outside stakeholders. Unfortunately, his position within the organization as rank-in-file was not part of the management team and did not foster direct oversight for crafting the communication messages and counseling those in top management on message content and timing of release to employees, media contacts, stakeholders, and external publics.
Although the communications were for the most part accurate, the communications efforts lacked involvement from all aspects of the internal and external publics to the organization. In his attempts to counsel management on sensitive issues in and outside of the organization, his influence on management was limited due to a transactional style of management apparent in the agency. This authoritative style of management was pervasive in the agency as a way to follow strict written polices and allow managers and supervisors to flex their muscles and maintain power in and outside of the organization. This style of transactional management lead to a lack of leadership as noted by Werder and Holtzhausen (2009), “transactional leaders use organizational bureaucracy, culture, standard, policy, power and authority to maintain control” (p. 405).
In his practice of communications and public relations, he tried to implement a transformational style of leadership, instead of the transactional styles so pervasive in the agency. Regarding the skills employed by the transformational leader, Meng et al (2012) asserts, “this perspective is concerned with emotions, values, ethics, and long-term relationships, as well as followers’ motives, needs, and satisfaction” (p.22). By implementing a transformational leadership style, it allowed him to validate and collaborate with employees and external publics and ultimately in my attempts to bring their issues back to the management. As Werder and Holtzhausen (2009) noted regarding transformational leaders, “ they are innovative, charismatic, and accomplish goals by motivating people to a higher standard than that of their own self-interest, for the good of the group or organization (p. 406). 
The lack of involvement in a social exchange process by the management with regard to their internal and external publics limited the effectiveness of the communications efforts from the agency. Eisenberg (2007) concluded, “in fact, new perspectives on leadership view communicative ability as the most important attribute of a leader and argue for “communication as the essential component of inspiration and change” (as cited in Werder & Holtzhausen, 2009, p. 406).
As a rank-in-file employee, his role as the public relations director allowed a limited ability to fully consult and influence the upper management regarding content and timing of agency communications creating an ethical dilemma. As Lee (2010) noted, “Ethical dilemmas, emerging when values clash, are especially challenging in public relations where practitioners encounter numerous public, stakeholders and competing priorities” (p. 185). At times he was directed by upper management to disseminate communications that were not collaborative with our stakeholders, but simply informing the public through communications that were tied directly to agency policy and procedures based on a transactional management style.
By using a transformational leadership style his role as a communicator and public relations leader could have shaped the organization and influenced upper management to be more inclusive in their communications efforts. Unfortunately, this did not occur due to an organizational culture that did not allow for a change to a transformational leadership style and providing for two-way symmetrical communications.
Recommendations for Practice
The results of the case study indicate public agencies could benefit from the effects of transformational leadership with regard to the public relations practitioner influencing upper management with their communication practices. Meng (2012) concluded, “for public relations to continue generating impact on organizational decision-making process, it is important for both practitioners and researchers to assess the role of leadership in the communication process” (p. 336).


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Dr. Dan Eller holds a Doctorate in Education from the Gevirtz Graduate
School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara,
and is an Assistant Professor of Public Relations in the Journalism
Department at California Polytechnic State University.

Dr. Patrick Faverty holds a Doctorate in Education from the University
of La Verne, and is a Lecturer of Educational Leadership in the Gevirtz
Graduate School of Education at the University of California,
Santa Barbara, and a former District Superintendent.

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