In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Leadership and Communication

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Ethics and Leadership Communication
  • Women and Leadership Communication
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Leadership Communication
  • Leading Change
  • Leading during Crisis
  • Leadership Development and Pedagogy

Communication Leadership and Communication
Stacey Connaughton
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0290


Leadership is a communicative phenomenon. Communication scholars have studied it for decades, and theoretical and empirical pieces on leadership communication transcend our sub-disciplines and subfields. Historically, leadership communication as an area of study has been influenced by leadership studies in psychology, organizational behavior, management, and more. Over time, leadership communication has emerged as its own area of study, and a diverse, multi-faceted one at that. The purpose of this article is to provide an analytical review of this literature, highlight the diverse ways in which we approach the study of leadership communication and the diverse theoretical traditions from which we build, and summarize empirical research findings. This entry is based on data-driven and conceptual articles in communication and related journals that often publish articles on leadership communication. These journals included: Communication Monographs, Communication Theory, Human Communication Research, Journal of Applied Communication Research, Communication Research, Management Communication Quarterly Leadership, Leadership Studies, Journal of Public Relations Research, International Journal of Strategic Communication, Public Relations Review, and Communication Studies. Key search terms included “leadership communication” and “leadership” followed by a broader search on Google Scholar with the same key terms. What follows is not meant to be a comprehensive review but rather a representative one. Furthermore, following Fairhurst and Connaughton 2014 (cited under Reference Works), this entry does not offer a universal definition of leadership and communication but rather celebrates both terms’ diversity in conceptualization and communication scholars’ diverse meta-theoretical commitments as reflected in the books and articles included below.

General Overviews

Taken together, the works highlighted in this section underscore the relationship between leadership and communication. They emphasize how understanding the communicative underpinnings of leadership can enhance knowledge about, and the practice of, leadership. Alvesson and Spicer 2011 complicates the relationship between leadership and communication by highlighting contradictions revealed when examining that relationship. Fairhurst 2007 defines the discursive constitution of leadership as complementary to psychological notions of leadership. Fairhurst and Sarr 1996 reveals how framing, a set of communicative moves, relates to the doing of leadership.

  • Alvesson, Mats, and Andre Spicer. 2011. Metaphors we lead by: Understanding leadership in the real world. London: Routledge.

    Alvesson and Spicer interrogate the contradictions of leadership. They unpack these contradictions through four points of orientation: (a) leadership as necessitating understanding and interpretation; (b) leadership as influencing and following via behaviors, effects, meaning making, and language use; (c) leadership as messy and imperfect; and (d) leadership as explained through contradictory metaphors. They encourage perspectives that embrace uncertainty and the interplay between leaders, followers, and context, providing insights into what a metaphorical approach to leadership offers to educators, practitioners, and the public.

  • Fairhurst, Gail T. 2007. Discursive leadership: In conversation with leadership psychology. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781452231051

    Positioning leadership studies in conversation with the then dominant paradigm of leadership psychology, Fairhurst presents a discursive view on leadership. That is, she invites us to consider interaction as central to leadership; how leadership actors manage meaning, are actors and recipients of meaning; how leadership is at core, narrative; and the merits of a social and cultural worldview alongside an individual one. She encourages us to think about what it means to observe, think of, and discuss leadership through a discursive lens.

  • Fairhurst, Gail T., and Robert A. Sarr. 1996. The art of framing: Managing the language of leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Through analyses of hundreds of conversations leaders have had, this book examines the ways in which leaders’ everyday language shapes meaning and reality for those around them. The authors define framing as “a quality of communication that causes others to accept one meaning over another” (p. xi) and which involves language, thought, and forethought. They provide practical ways in which leaders can internalize and engage in communication every day that will shape how events, decisions, and actions are interpreted.

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