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Why Leadership Matters to Internal Communication: Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical Communication, and Employee Outcomes

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This study examines how organizational leadership influences excellent internal communication by building the linkage between transformational leadership, symmetrical communication, and employee attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. The results showed that transformational leadership positively influences the organization's symmetrical communication system and employee–organization relationships. The effects of transformational leadership on employee relational outcomes are partially mediated by symmetrical internal communication. Symmetrical communication demonstrates large positive effect on the quality of employee–organization relationships, which in turn leads to employee advocacy. Effects of symmetrical internal communication on employee advocacy are fully mediated by employee–organization relationships. Significant theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
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Why Leadership Matters to
Internal Communication: Linking
Transformational Leadership,
Symmetrical Communication, and
Employee Outcomes
Linjuan Rita Men a
a Communication Studies, Southern Methodist University
Published online: 28 May 2014.
To cite this article: Linjuan Rita Men (2014) Why Leadership Matters to Internal Communication:
Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical Communication, and Employee Outcomes, Journal
of Public Relations Research, 26:3, 256-279, DOI: 10.1080/1062726X.2014.908719
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2014.908719
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Why Leadership Matters to Internal Communication:
Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical
Communication, and Employee Outcomes
Linjuan Rita Men
Communication Studies, Southern Methodist University
This study examines how organizational leadership influences excellent internal communication by
building the linkage between transformational leadership, symmetrical communication, and emplo-
yee attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. The results showed that transformational leadership
positively influences the organization’s symmetrical communication system and employee–
organization relationships. The effects of transformational leadership on employee relational
outcomes are partially mediated by symmetrical internal communication. Symmetrical communi-
cation demonstrates large positive effect on the quality of employee–organization relationships,
which in turn leads to employee advocacy. Effects of symmetrical internal communication on
employee advocacy are fully mediated by employee–organization relationships. Significant
theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Internal communication, sometimes called employee communication (Kennan & Hazleton,
2006; Kreps, 1989), as a subarea of public relations, has been recognized as the foundation
of modern organizations. Deetz (2001) defined internal communication as a way to describe
and explain organizations. Internal communication is a central process by which employees
share information, create relationships, make meaning, and construct organizational culture
and values (Berger, 2008). Berger asserted that internal communication is one of the most
dominant and important activities in organizations because it ‘‘helps individuals and groups
coordinate activities to achieve goals, and [is] vital in socialization, decision-making, problem-
solving, and change-management processes’’ (p. 2).
A growing body of evidence has demonstrated that effective internal communication plays a
vital role in developing positive employee attitudes, such as job satisfaction (Gray & Laidlaw,
2004), identification with the organization (Smidts, Pruyn, & van Riel, 2001), trust and organiza-
tional commitment (Jo & Shim, 2005), and positive employee–organization relationships. These
attitudes, in turn, increase productivity, improve performance, and enhance external relations
(Berger, 2008). In this increasingly connected digital world, employees possess numerous
tools to initiate conversations about the company in the public domain. Quality employee–
organization relationships and positive employee communication behavior (J. Kim & Rhee,
2011) are critical factors that affect an organization’s intangible assets, such as reputation and
Correspondence should be sent to Dr. Linjuan Rita Men, Ph.D., Southern Methodist University, Communication
Studies, 6550 Shady Brook Lane, Dallas, TX 75206. E-mail: cicirita@gmail.com
Journal of Public Relations Research, 26: 256–279, 2014
Copyright #Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1062-726X print/1532-754X online
DOI: 10.1080/1062726X.2014.908719
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stakeholder relations. Thus, the influence of employees as invaluable communication assets in
the organization and the function of internal communication in generating positive employee
outcomes have received increasing attention from public relations scholars and professionals.
Dozier, L. A. Grunig, and J. E. Grunig. (1995) and L. A. Grunig, J. E. Grunig, and Dozier
(2002) suggested that a participative organizational culture, an organic structure, power sym-
metry, and gender equality, are the key factors that facilitate the organization’s internal
communication. Presumably, all these organizational contextual factors are connected to one
concept, organizational leadership. Yukl (2006) defined leadership as the process of influencing
followers. Leadership at different organizational levels directly or indirectly determines structur-
al forms, organizational culture and climate, power distribution, and communication. Different
types of leadership advocate different communication styles to influence followers, and thus
constitute a major component of the internal communication system (Whitworth, 2011).
Management competence and leadership behavior also drive communication outcomes, such
as perceived organizational reputation and quality relationships (Dowling, 2004; Men, 2011b).
However, despite the innate connection between leadership and communication, few empirical
studies have examined the exact influence of organizational leadership as a contextual factor on
internal communication in organizations.
The limited studies on leadership in public relations have primarily focused on examining the
leadership styles and traits preferred by public relations leaders (e.g., Aldoory & Toth, 2004; Jin,
2010; Shin, Heath, & Lee, 2011; Werder & Holzhausen, 2009) and on theorizing about and mea-
suring leadership in the public relations context (Lee & Cheng, 2012; Meng & Berger, 2013;
Meng, Berger, Gower, & Heyman, 2012; M.-L. Yang, 2012). For example, Aldoory and Toth
found a strong preference for transformational leadership over transactional leadership in public
relations. Jin (2010) examined the influence of emotions on public relations leadership and
proposes that ‘‘transformational leadership and empathy are key predictors of public relations
leaders’ competency in gaining employee trust, managing employees’ frustration and
optimism,’’ and handling ‘‘decision-making conflicts’’ (p. 159). Shin et al. (2011) compared
the leadership characteristics preferred by public relations practitioners in the United States
and South Korea and concluded that public relations leadership depends on culture and situation
differences. M.-L. Yang (2012) established the linkage among transformational leadership, the
job satisfaction of Taiwanese public relations practitioners, and organizational commitment and
observes the effectiveness of transformational leadership in generating positive attitudes among
public relations practitioners. Meng et al. (2012; Meng & Berger, 2013) conceptualized excellent
leadership in public relations and suggested that strategic decision-making capability, problem-
solving ability, and communication knowledge and expertise are the three most important
qualities of public relations leadership. Although several communicative aspects are discussed
by leadership theories about work-related leader–follower interactions and leadership communi-
cation has been examined by a few organizational communication scholars, limited systematic
studies have analyzed the effect of leadership on internal communication in the organization
(Mast & Huck, 2008).
To fill the research gap and expand the body of knowledge on leadership and internal
communication, this study investigates the effect of a particularly effective form of leadership
(Knippenberg & Sitkin, 2013), transformational leadership, on symmetrical internal communi-
cation in an organization and employee outcomes (i.e., employee relational outcomes and
employee advocacy). The findings provide significant implications for communication
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 257
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professionals and organizational leaders on how to develop best practices of internal communi-
cation and form positive employee attitudes and behavior that contribute to organizational
effectiveness.
LITERATURE REVIEW
Leadership and Internal Communication
Whitworth (2011) suggested that organizational hierarchical communication, represented by
top-down or bottom-up communication among the successive layers of executives, managers,
supervisors, and nonmanagement employees, is a major component of an organization’s internal
communication system. Leaders at different levels significantly influence the top-down trans-
mission of messages to every employee and the communication of the opinions of employees
to top management. Immediate supervisors are the information source preferred by employees
and thus have more credibility with employees than senior executives (e.g., Larkin & Larkin,
1994; Whitworth, 2011). The communication competence, styles, and channels of a leader also
influence the attitudinal and behavioral outcomes of employees. For example, Holladay and
Coombs (1993) noted that leadership communication shapes follower perception. Leaders
who clearly and persuasively communicate a vision gain the confidence of followers. Cameron
and McCollum (1993) found that the two-way nature of interpersonal communication channels,
such as team meetings, group problem-solving sessions, and supervisor briefings, enhances
employee–management relationships better than publications and fosters a sense of community
and belonging among employees (White, Vanc, & Stafford, 2010). Similarly, this study
argues that organizational leadership provides a critical organizational context for internal
communication.
Organizational Leadership
Leadership as a key factor in determining organizational success has been extensively studied in
management, business, and marketing, but leadership research in the public relations setting is
still emerging (Aldoory & Toth, 2004; Bass & Avolio, 1997). Yukl (2006) suggested that lead-
ership can be defined from various perspectives, such as the ‘‘traits, behaviors, influence, inter-
action patterns, role relationships, and occupation of an administrative position’’ (p. 2). For
example, Yukl and Van Fleet (1992) defined leadership as a process of influencing, including
‘‘influencing the task objectives and strategies of a group or organization, influencing people
in the organization to implement the strategies and achieve the objectives, influencing group
maintenance and identification, and influencing the culture of the organization’’ (p. 149). House
et al. (2004) conceptualized leadership as ‘‘the ability of an individual to influence, motivate,
and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organization of which
they are members’’ (p. 15). Stogdill (as cited in Yukl, 2006, p. 8) noted that ‘‘there are as many
definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define this concept.’’
Researchers often define the term according to their individual perspective or the aspects of
the leadership phenomenon they are interested in (Yukl, 2006). This study agrees with Yukl
and Van Fleet (1992) that the essence of leadership is behavioral influence. Existing as a nested
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form in the organization, leadership behavior influences not only the attitude and behavior of
followers and group performance but also the organizational structure, climate, culture, and
effectiveness (Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992).
1
Transformational Leadership
According to Bass (1985) and Bass and Avolio (1997), leadership behaviors may be categorized
into three styles: transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire (nonleadership), known as the
full-range leadership model. Transformational leadership motivates followers by appealing to
their higher-order needs and induce employees to transcend self-interest for the sake of the group
or the organization. Transactional leadership appeals to followers’ lower-level personal desires,
based on instrumental economic transactions (Bennet, 2009). The laissez-faire leader is indiffer-
ent toward followers. Among these leadership styles, transformational leadership has received
the most significant scholarly attention across disciplines because of its relationship-oriented nat-
ure and the rich empirical evidence on its positive influence on employee attitudes and behavior
(e.g., Behling & McFillen, 1996; DeGroot, Kiker, & Cross, 2000; Dirks & Ferrin, 2002;
Dumdum, Lowe, & Avolio, 2002; Dvir, Eden, Avolio, & Shamir, 2002; Lowe, Kroeck, &
Sivasubramaniam, 1996; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Bommer, 1996).
Transformational leaders convey a strong sense of purpose and collective mission and
motivate employees by communicating inspirational vision and high performance expectations.
This form of leadership creates an emotional attachment between leaders and followers. Jin
(2010) noted that transformational leadership integrates ‘‘empathy, compassion, sensitivity,
relationship building, and innovation’’ (p. 174). Acting as role models, transformational
leaders elicit strong emotions from followers and identification with the leader (Yukl, 2006).
Transformational leaders take genuine interest in the well-being of employees, foster a climate
of trust, nurture confidence in their followers, and encourage individual development. Thus,
transformational leaders often closely interact with their followers to better understand and
address their needs. Transformational leaders empower followers in decision making and
delegate significant authority to followers to make them less dependent on the leader (Aldoory
& Toth, 2004; Men & Stacks, 2013; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992). Therefore, transformational
leadership is relationship-oriented, empowering, and participative by nature.
Although recognized as a dominant perspective in leadership research, transformational lead-
ership has been criticized for its conceptual broadness and measurement validity issues (e.g.,
Knippenberg & Sitkin, 2013; Northouse, 2004, Yukl, 1999). For instance, Yukl (1999) criticized
transformational leadership for its lack of conceptual clarity regarding the criteria against
which leadership aspects are included in or excluded from the concept. Other researchers
(e.g., Knippenberg & Sitkin, 2013; Northouse, 2004) have challenged the weak discriminant
validity of the most commonly used instrument of transformational leadership, the Multifactor
Leadership Questionnaire (Bass, 1990), highlighting the difficulty to discern how each dimen-
sion has a distinct influence on the mediating processes and outcomes. Despite these concerns,
1
Similar to Yukl and Van Fleet (1992), this study does not distinguish between leaders and managers because these
terms are often interchangeably used in leadership literature. Specifically, leaders or managers are considered to be
individuals who occupy organizational positions that require them to lead other employees.
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 259
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research on transformational leadership has kept its momentums and won increasing popularity
across fields because of its merits in leadership effectiveness. Conceptualizations and measures
have been refined to address the abovementioned issues (Podsakoff, Mackenzie, & Bommer,
1990; Rafferty & Griffin, 2004). Transformational leadership strongly emphasizes relationships,
individual consideration, meaning, and empowerment and thus has particular implications for
communication and relationship managers.
Symmetrical Internal Communication
According to J. E. Grunig (2006), the conceptualization of symmetrical communication was
stimulated by Carter (1965) and Chaffee and McLeod’s (1968) concept of coorientation. In con-
trast to traditional approaches about how to develop messages to change attitudes or behavior,
coorientation emphasizes how two people or levels of a system are jointly oriented to each other.
Similarly, the basic premise of a symmetrical model is how individuals, organizations, and the
public use communication to adjust their thinking and behavior, rather than control or manipu-
late how the other party thinks or behaves. Thus, symmetrical communication favors under-
standing, collaboration, responsiveness, and the creation of long-term and mutually beneficial
relationships (L. A. Grunig et al., 2002).
In the internal communication setting, symmetrical communication is defined as the com-
munication worldview and practice that characterized by its emphasis on ‘‘trust, credibility,
openness, relationships, reciprocity, network symmetry, horizontal communication, feedback,
adequacy of information, employee-centered style, tolerance for disagreement, and negotiation’’
(J. E. Grunig, 1992, p. 558; J. Kim & Rhee, 2011). Symmetry is entwined with power in orga-
nizational networks and management (e.g., Chiles & Zorn, 1995; Men, 2011b; Parker & Price,
1994). J. E. Grunig (1992) indicated that the asymmetrical use of power means that managers
maximize their power by controlling followers and increasing the dependence of followers on
them. By contrast, the symmetrical concept of power (i.e., empowerment) means ‘‘collaborating
to increase the power of everyone in the organization, for the benefit of everyone in the organi-
zation’’ (p. 564). Internal symmetrical communication in the organization is based on the prin-
ciples of employee empowerment and participation in decision-making (J. E. Grunig & L. A.
Grunig, 2011). In such a communication system, managers and followers engage in dialogue
and listen to each other; internal media disseminate information required by employees to foster
mutual understanding and understanding of individual roles. Thus, symmetrical communication
fosters a participative organizational culture and organic structure.
By contrast, asymmetrical communication takes the one-way, top-down approach. This type
of communication persuades or controls employee behavior for the goals of management. Asym-
metrical communication is often associated with a centralized and mechanical organizational
structure and authoritarian culture, where employees have little opportunity to offer input to
organizational decision making (J. E. Grunig, 1992; L. A. Grunig et al., 2002). The effectiveness
of symmetrical communication in nurturing positive public attitudinal and behavioral outcomes
has been demonstrated in many studies (e.g., L. A. Grunig, et al., 2002; Ki & Hon, 2007, J. Kim
& Chan-Olmsted, 2005; Ni & Wang, 2011; Seltzer & Zhang, 2011). Likewise, the study argues
that symmetrical communication in an organization plays a vital role in building quality
employeeorganization relationships and fostering employee advocacy.
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Employee–Organization Relationships
Public relations practice and research have developed a new emphasis on building, and maintain-
ing, quality relationships with strategic publics (Kent & Taylor, 2002). As one major outcome of
public relations, organization–public relationships have been extensively examined in various
contexts, including corporate, nonprofit, government, global, and online settings (e.g., Bruning,
Castle, & Schrepfer, 2003; Bruning & Ledingham, 1999; J. E. Grunig & Huang, 2000; L. A.
Grunig et al., 2002; Hon & J. E. Grunig, 1999; Huang, 2001; Hung, 2006; H. Kim, 2007; Ni
& Wang, 2011; Seltzer & Zhang, 2011). Broom, Casey, and Richey (2000) defined organiza-
tion–public relationships as ‘‘the patterns of interaction, transaction, exchange, and linkage
between an organization and its publics’’ (p. 18). Hon and J. E. Grunig (1999) noted that
a relationship begins when consequences created by an organization affect the public, or vice
versa. Organization–public relationships can be experienced as a process and perceived as an
outcome (J. E. Grunig, 2006). As an outcome, such a relationship is indicated by public trust,
control mutuality, commitment, and satisfaction (Huang, 2001), which contribute to the public’s
favorable perception of the organization (i.e., organizational reputation; S. Yang & J. E. Grunig,
2005) and supportive behavior (e.g., Bruning & Lambe, 2002; J. Kim & Rhee, 2011).
2
Similarly, in the internal setting, the employee–organization relationship can be operationally
defined as the degree to which an organization and its employees trust one another, agree on who
has the rightful power to influence, experience satisfaction with each other, and commit them-
selves to the other. The quality relationships of organizations with their employees contribute not
only to organizational performance and the achievement of organizational goals but also to the
development and protection of organizational reputation and image in a turbulent environment.
J. Kim and Rhee (2011) proposed that employees with good long-term relationships with their
organization ‘‘are likely to consider organizational problems as their own, and are thus likely to
forward and share supportive information for their organization during organizational turbu-
lence.’’ By contrast, employees with poor relationships with the organization ‘‘are less empathic
to the organizational situation and more likely to disassociate themselves from their working
organization. Even worse, they empathize with external active publics who criticize and attack
the troubling organization and attribute problematic situations to organizational management’’
(p. 251). This notion reflects Rhee’s (2004) finding that employees who have positive
relationships with their organizations facilitate the development of positive relationships with
the organization’s external publics as corporate advocates.
Employee Advocacy
The influence of employees as informal spokespersons and brand advocates for organizations
has long been recognized within public relations (Dozier et al., 1995). Employees use their per-
sonal network to amplify the brand message or proactively personalize, promote, and defend the
2
Hon and J. E. Grunig (1999) suggested that trust concerns the willingness and confidence of both parties to a
relationship to open themselves to each other. Control mutuality refers to ‘‘the degree to which parties agree on who
has rightful power to influence one another’’ (Hon & J. E. Grunig, 1999, p. 13). Commitment means the desire of both
parties to make continuous efforts to maintain and promote a relationship. Satisfaction refers to the degree to which both
parties to a relationship are satisfied with each other.
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 261
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brand. Compared with sophisticated public relations messages, what employees represent is
often perceived by external publics as neutral and credible (Men & Stacks, 2013). This obser-
vation is especially true in the social media era, when digital technologies facilitate not only
communication among employees but also interactions between employees and the external
publics. The interactions of employees with external publics arguably affect public relations
outcomes, such as the quality of organization–public relationships and organizational reputation
(J. Kim & Rhee, 2011). The unprecedented increase in employees’ power to communicate has
made employee advocacy a buzzword in professional literature on public relations. In the
academic arena, however, employee advocacy has yet to be studied as a focal concept.
Literature on marketing and business communication has extensively discussed the similar
concept of customer advocacy (e.g., Russel & Morgan, 2009; Urban, 2005; Walz & Celuch,
2010). Defined as ‘‘the promotion or defense of a company, product, or brand by a customer
to another’’ (Walz & Celuch, 2010, p. 96), customer advocacy behavior is more than a positive
form of word of mouth (WOM).
3
Advocacy includes positive WOM but is also considered an
outcome of a strong relationship, in that the public defends the company or brand against critics
(Walz & Celuch, 2010). Thus, advocacy is a more influential form of behavioral support than
positive WOM. As an ultimate test of the relationship between an organization and its public,
advocacy significantly extends the effectiveness and efficacy of the communication efforts of
a company (Reicheld, 2003; Walz & Celuch, 2010). Similarly, in the internal setting, employee
advocacy is a major step forward in the evolving relationship (Urban, 2005) between an organi-
zation and its employees. Similar to Walz and Celuch (2010), this study defines employee advo-
cacy as a behavioral construct, that is, the voluntary promotion or defense of a company, its
products, or its brands by an employee externally.
Hypothesis Development: Linking Transformational Leadership, Symmetrical Internal
Communication, and Employee Outcomes
Transformational leadership and symmetrical internal communication. Leadership is
performed largely through communication (Holladay & Coombs, 1993). Hackman and Johnson
(2004) noted that transformational leadership is characterized by interactive, caring, visionary,
inspirational, and empowering communication behavior. Transformational leaders create chan-
ges through a creative process of thinking out of the box, such as being open to different
opinions and listening to the opinions of their followers. Transformational leaders genuinely care
about the well-being and feelings of their followers. Accordingly, such leaders often communi-
cate well and closely interact with employees to understand and address their higher-order needs
well. Therefore, a transformational leader can be ‘‘touched, felt, believed and heard’’ (Neff &
Citrin, 1999, pp. 39–40). Communicating a desirable, inspirational, and attainable vision is
among the most important acts of transformational leaders. Such a vision gives followers a sense
of meaning within the organization and thus improves their relational commitment to the organi-
zation. Transformational leadership communication is also empowering (Hackman & Johnson,
3
Word of mouth refers to ‘‘informal communications directed at other consumers about ownership, usage, or
particular goods and services and=or their sellers’ characteristics’’ (Westbrook, 1987, p. 261).
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2004): Transformational leaders seek opinion from followers and invite them to openly partici-
pate in the decision-making process (Hackman & Johnson, 2004). Therefore, transformational
leadership demonstrates the key inherent attributes of symmetrical communication, such as
openness, listening, feedback, two-way dialogue, participation, and accountability. Given that
leaders interact with employees daily, transformational leadership arguably serves as an avenue
for symmetrical communication in the organization. Thus, the following hypothesis is proposed:
H1: Transformational leadership is positively associated with symmetrical internal communication.
Symmetrical internal communication and employee outcomes. Previous studies
have demonstrated the positive associations of internal symmetrical communication and
employee outcomes, including job satisfaction, organizational identification, loyalty, employee–
organization relationships, and employee communication behavior (e.g., L. A. Grunig et al.,
2002; Jo & Shim, 2005; J. Kim & Rhee, 2011; Smidts, Pruyn, & van Riel, 2001). For instance,
J. Kim and Rhee found that symmetrical internal communication efforts to cultivate positive
relationships with employees eventually lead to employees’ positive megaphoning (i.e., ampli-
fying organizational kudos) and scouting (i.e., voluntary environmental scanning) behaviors.
Similarly, thist study posits that when the organization’s communication system is open,
two-way, and responsive; invites feedback; addresses employee voices and concerns; and boosts
mutual understanding, collaboration, and dialogues, employees feel they have a better relation-
ship with the organization and are more likely to advocate for the organization. Therefore, the
following two hypotheses are suggested:
H2: Symmetrical internal communication is positively associated with the quality of employee–
organization relationships.
H3: Symmetrical internal communication is positively associated with employee advocacy.
Quality public relationships with the organization engender positive attitudes toward the
company as well as supportive behavior intention (Bruning, 2000, 2002; Bruning & Ledingham,
2000; Bruning & Ralston, 2000; Ki & Hon, 2007; J. Kim & Chan-Olmsted, 2005; Ledingham,
2001; Ledingham & Bruning, 1998; Peppard, 2000) and even actual behavior (J. Kim & Rhee,
2011). Thus, this study predicts that employees who perceive a quality relationship with the
organization are more likely to become loyal advocates for their company and promote or defend
the company and its products and services in public. Given that positive relationship is a major
precursor of advocacy (Urban, 2005), symmetrical communication efforts that enable organiza-
tions to foster positive relationships with employees could promote employee advocacy
indirectly. Therefore, it can be predicted that:
H4: The quality of employee–organization relationships is positively associated with employee
advocacy.
H5: Employee–organization relationships partially mediate the effect of symmetrical internal
communication on employee advocacy.
Transformational leadership and employee outcomes. Leaders represent the organiza-
tion in their communication with followers. Thus, leaders’ treatment of their followers may
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 263
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influence how employees feel about the organization (Men & Stacks, 2013). Transformational
leadership positively affects employees’ attitudes and behavior toward their jobs and leaders,
such as trust in leaders, job satisfaction, satisfaction with the leader, leader–member exchange,
team=organizational commitment, loyalty, task performance, and organizational citizenship
behavior (e.g., Behling & McFillen, 1996; DeGroot et al., 2000; Dirks & Ferrin, 2002; Dumdum
et al., 2002; Dvir et al., 2002; Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Lowe et al., 1996; Podsakoff et al., 1996).
Similarly, this study proposes positive relations between transformational leadership, employee–
organization relationships, and employee advocacy.
On the one hand, transformational leaders support employees, care about their concerns and
development, and delegate significant decision-making authority to them. Thus, employees are
motivated, empowered, and feel trusted by management. As a result, employees are satisfied
with the organization and less prone to leave. Furthermore, by coaching, listening, providing
performance feedback, fulfilling individual needs, and stimulating changes, transformational
leaders form lasting relationships with employees (D’Aprix, 2010) and foster employee
advocacy. On the other hand, transformational leadership communication is characterized by
symmetry, such as listening while telling, a balance of power, relationship orientation, trust,
and collaboration, which contribute to the development of symmetrical communication in the
organization. Symmetrical internal communication nurtures positive employee attitudes and
behavior (L. A. Grunig, et al., 2002; J. Kim & Rhee, 2011); thus, transformational leadership
can influence employee outcomes by shaping internal symmetrical communication. Therefore,
the following hypotheses are proposed:
H6: Transformational leadership is positively associated with employee–organization relationships.
H7: Transformational leadership is positively associated with employee advocacy.
H8: Symmetrical internal communication partially mediates the effects of transformational leader-
ship on employee outcomes (i.e., employee–organization relationships and employee advocacy).
Based on the preceding discussion on transformational leadership and symmetrical communi-
cation in association with employee outcomes, the conceptual model tested in this study was
developed as follows (Figure 1).
FIGURE 1 Conceptual model of the impact of transformational leadership on symmetrical internal communication and
employee outcomes.
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METHOD
This study empirically tested a causal model linking transformational leadership, symmetrical
communication, employee–organization relationships, and employee advocacy to generalize it
to a large population. Quantitative survey was considered appropriate for the research because
it allows the testing of causal relationships among variables of interest with nonexperimental
data while ensuring external validity (Judd, Smith, & Kidder, 1991; Weisberg, Krosnick, &
Bowen, 1996).
4
Population and Sample
The study population comprised employees from different positions in medium-sized and large
corporations in the United States. Sample selection aimed to cover a diverse range of business
communities to cross-validate the proposed model. Rather than participant corporations, individ-
ual employees were recruited through a sampling firm.
5
The sampling firm solicited partici-
pation from its 1.5 million research panel members in the United States through its patented
online sampling platform. Qualified potential participants were directed to the online survey
hosted by the researcher. Stratified and quota random sampling strategies were used to obtain
a representative sample with comparable age groups, gender, and corporation sizes across vari-
ous income and education levels. A final sample size of 402 was achieved (45.5%men and
54.5%women, 59.2%nonmanagement and 40.8%management employees, average age ¼44).
Approximately 55%of the respondents held at least a bachelor’s degree. The respondents were
employees working in various corporations with average company tenure of 10 years.
6
Data Collection
Before survey administration, one pretest and one preliminary survey were conducted to ensure
the reliability and validity of the measure. The pretest was conducted with 30 employees
of a Fortune 100 software company in the company food court in January 2011. Respondents
completed the survey and provided feedback on their opinions of the wording, thematic clarity,
and format of the survey. Based on respondent feedback, several questions were reworded
to avoid ambiguity. For example, the item ‘‘Leaders in my department consider my personal
feelings before acting’’ was changed to ‘‘My manager considers my personal feelings before
acting.’’ A five-point Likert scale on major concepts was also changed to a seven-point Likert
scale (1 ¼strongly disagree,7¼strongly agree) to capture respondent traits well and follow
4
The experiment method is generally considered the most rigorous way to establish causal relationships between
variables because it allows full control over extraneous variables. However, the external validity (i.e., generalizability)
of this method is low (Stacks, 2010; Wrench, Thomas-Maddox, Richmond, & McCroskey, 2008).
5
The sampling firm is a global provider of sampling solutions for survey research with headquarters in the United
States. This firm is the first commercial research sampling company.
6
The companies of participants covered various industries, including education, retail, health care, finance,
information technology, food, industrial and manufacturing, and transportation and logistics.
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 265
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respondent suggestions. In March 2011, the researcher conducted a preliminary online survey
with 700 employees randomly selected from a Fortune 500 energy company through the
pretested instrument. A total of 167 employees completed the online survey. Preliminary analy-
sis of the reliability and validity of the measures revealed satisfactory results. Therefore, most of
the measurement items on key variables were retained. However, to avoid respondent fatigue
and reduce the length of the questionnaire, several demographic questions (i.e., questions about
ethnicity, nationality, and industry tenure) were excluded from the actual survey.
Data for the research were collected via an Internet survey in March 2012. The online ques-
tionnaire was used as the tool for data collection because of its low-cost and high-speed infor-
mation transmission (Stacks, 2010). On March 1, the link to the online survey was provided to
the sampling firm. Data collection began on March 5, when qualified participants randomly
selected by the sampling firm were directed to Weblink to complete the online survey. By March
15, 2012, a sample size of 402 had been achieved.
Measures
The measures of key concepts in this study were adapted from previous literature (J. E. Grunig,
1992; Hon & J. E. Grunig, 1999; Kirkman, Chen, Farh, Chen, & Lowe, 2009; Podsakoff et al.,
1990; Podsakoff et al., 1996). The scale used for close-ended questions was the seven-point
Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The measure of transformational
leadership was adapted from the Transformational Leadership Inventory of Podsakoff et al.
(1990).
7
Strong evidence from prior empirical studies supports the reliability and validity of
this inventory (Kirkman et al., 2009; Pillai & Williams, 1998; Podsakoff et al., 1990; Podsakoff
et al., 1996; Viator, 2001). Following Kirkman et al. (2009) and based on the pretest results,
a short measure of six items was used to evaluate the transformational leadership style of leaders
(e.g., ‘‘My manager articulates a vision,’’ ‘‘My manager shows respect for my personal
feelings;’’ a¼.90).
8
To operationalize symmetrical communication in the corporate internal setting, six items
developed by Dozier et al. (1995) were used (e.g., ‘‘Most communication between manage-
ment and other employees in this organization can be said to be two-way communication,’’
‘‘This company encourages difference of opinions;’’ a¼.86).
9
To assess the quality of the
relationship between the organization and its employees, this study used the widely adapted
instrument developed by Hon and J. E. Grunig (1999). This 20-item instrument (a¼.97)
comprises four subconstructs: employee trust (a¼.89), control mutuality (a¼.93), commit-
ment (a¼.91), and satisfaction (a¼.96). Two items were also used to evaluate employees’
advocacy of their organization (e.g., ‘‘I will speak favorably about my company in public;’’
a¼.88).
7
Instead of the standard leadership instrument (Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire; Bass, 1990), TLI was adapted
to measure transformational leadership because it is a more construct-valid measure.
8
The alpha values reported are Cronbach’s reliability coefficients for each construct in this study.
9
Although there exist a few measures of symmetrical communication (e.g., J. E. Grunig, 1992; L. A. Grunig, et al.,
2002) in the public relations literature, the study adopted Dozier et al.’s (1995) measure because it was developed parti-
cularly to measure the symmetrical qualities of internal communication from the employee’s perspective.
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Data Reduction and Analysis
Before major data analysis, the data were proofread and checked to assess univariate normality
and identify obvious univariate and multivariate outliers.
10
Expectation–maximization (EM) was
used to diagnose the pattern of missing data.
11
Kline (2005) suggested that most methods used
to address incomplete observations assume that data loss patterns are negligible, missing
at random, or missing completely at random (MCAR).
12
The result of Little’s MCAR test
was not significant (v
2
¼68.95, p ¼.90), indicating that the missing data were MCAR. EM
was then used to compute and impute missing data before all multivariate analyses.
The proposed model (Figure 1) and hypotheses were tested through structural equation
modeling (SEM) AMOS 19.0 software.
13
Two-step latent-variable modeling was used. Multiple
criteria were used to evaluate the model goodness of fit, including the comparative fit index
(CFI), root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), and standardized root mean square
residual (SRMR). These indices are a minimal set of fit indices that should be reported and
interpreted in SEM analyses (Kline, 2005).
14,15
RESULTS
The proposed model was analyzed and interpreted in two stages: (a) an assessment of the
construct validity of the measurement model through confirmatory factor analysis (CFA)
and (b) an assessment of the structural model. All four constructs in the structural model (i.e.,
transformational leadership, symmetrical communication, employee–organization relationships,
10
Univariate outliers were detected by observing the subjects’ standardized values (z-scores) generated from descrip-
tive statistics in SPSS. Multivariate outliers were detected by comparing the Mahalanobis distance with the critical point
at a¼.001 of the chi-square distribution with the degrees of freedom of the number of independent variables plus one
(An, personal communication, October 25, 2011).
11
EM includes two steps. In the estimation (E) step, missing data are imputed by predicted scores in a series of
regressions, where each missing variable is regressed on the remaining variables for a particular case. In the maximization
(M) step, all imputed data are subjected to maximum likelihood estimation. Both steps are repeated until a stable solution
is reached (Kline, 2005).
12
MAR denotes that the presence and absence of data on a certain variable are unrelated to those on any other
variable. MCAR is simply a stronger assumption about the randomness of data loss than MAR (Kline, 2005). Little’s
MCAR test, a statistical test available in the most recent version of SPSS, diagnoses the pattern of missing data. If the
result of Little’s MCAR test is not significant (H0: Missing data are MCAR), the null hypothesis is accepted, indicating
that the missing data are MCAR.
13
Kline (2005) proposed that SEM can be applied to both experimental and nonexperimental data to verify a priori
models consisting of latent variables or a mix of latent and observable variables. Thus, structural SEM was used as the
primary statistical method to test the hypothesized model.
14
Hu and Bentler (1999) suggested that a cutoff value close to .95 for CFI and the TLI, a cutoff value close to .08 for
SRMR, and a cutoff value close to .06 for RMSEA indicate good fit between the hypothesized model and the observed
data.
15
Kline (2005) observed that a single fit index reflects only a particular aspect of model fit and that a favorable value
of this index does not in itself indicate good fit. No single magic index provides a gold standard for all models. The
chi-square is the most commonly reported measure of model-data fit. However, the chi-square strongly depends on
sample size.
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 267
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and employee advocacy) were specified as latent variables. The maximum likelihood method
was used for model estimation.
CFA
The test results of the initial measurement model indicated adequate but not good fit with the
data: v
2
(129) ¼580.42, p<.001, v
2
=df ¼4.50, RMSEA ¼.09 (90%confidence interval [CI] ¼
.08–.10), SRMR ¼.03, Tucker–Lewis index (TLI) ¼.91, and CFI ¼.93. The model was then
modified accordingly. Byrne (2010, p. 111) argues that ‘‘forcing large error terms to be uncor-
related is rarely appropriate with real data.’’ Allowing error covariance within the same construct
can also explain content redundancy. Following this line of thinking and based on model
modification indices, one error covariance between items one and six of the symmetrical
communication measure was added.
16
This modification significantly improved data–model
fit (Dv
2
¼116.57, Ddf ¼1, p<.001), and the modified model demonstrated satisfactory fit with
the data: v
2
(128) ¼463.85, p<.001, v
2
=df ¼3.62, RMSEA ¼.08 (90%CI ¼.07–.09), SRMR ¼
.04, TLI ¼.93, and CFI ¼.94. Thus, it was retained as the final CFA model.
The standardized factor loadings in Table 1 indicate that all four constructs had the satisfying
validity. The minimum factor loading was .51 in the indicator of ‘‘higher performance expec-
tation’’ in the latent variable of transformational leadership. Except for two other items (on
symmetrical communication), all factor loadings exceeded .70, suggesting that the hypothesized
measurement model had the desired validity.
Structural Model Analysis
The multivariate normality assumption of SEM was evaluated in AMOS before the hypothesized
model was estimated. The sample data showed significant positive multivariate kurtosis. There-
fore, bootstrapping
17
(N¼2,000) through the maximum likelihood method was performed
to address the multivariate non-normality of the data. The bootstrap parameter estimations
did not deviate from those based on normal theory, indicating that the significant results
in Figure 2 remained significant in bootstrapping and the non-significant results remained
non-significant.
The hypothesized structural model in Figure 2 adequately fit the data: v
2
(128) ¼463.85,
p<.001, v
2
=df ¼3.62, RMSEA ¼.08 (.07–.09), SRMR ¼.04, TLI ¼.93, and CFI ¼.94.
Four structural paths demonstrated significant results at the p<.001 level.
The hypothesized model was simplified by eliminating nonsignificant paths. Kline (2005)
suggested that models can be trimmed according to empirical considerations, such as statistical
significance. The simplified model (Figure 3) was recalculated and compared with the hypothe-
sized model via nested model comparison. The hypothesized model had no significantly better
16
The error covariance between item one (‘‘I am comfortable talking to my manager about my performance’’) and
item six (‘‘I am comfortable talking to my manager when things are going wrong’’) was .52.
17
Byrne (2010) described bootstrapping as a procedure in which small random samples are repeatedly obtained from
a sample to develop empirical estimates of the standard errors of any parameter. Bootstrapping is commonly used to
address multivariate non-normality.
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FIGURE 2 Results of the hypothesized model. Coefficients are standardized regression weights. For the sake of brevity,
only the path model is demonstrated. The confirmatory factor analysis model pattern coefficients, error terms of
indicators, and disturbances of endogenous variables were omitted from the figure. p<.001.
TABLE 1
Standardized Coefficient of Measurement Indicators in the Final
Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) Model (n¼402)
Latent variable Indicator variable
No. of
Items
Std.
loading
Transformational leadership
(TL)
TL1: Articulating a vision 1 .83
TL2: Providing an appropriate model 1 .88
TL3: Fostering group goals 1 .86
TL4: High performance expectation 1 .51
TL5: Individual support 1 .77
TL6: Intellectual stimulation 1 .75
Symmetrical communication
(SC)
SC1: Comfortable talking to manager about performance 1 .64
SC2: Communication is two-way 1 .81
SC3: Encouraging difference of opinions 1 .85
SC4: Purpose of communication is to be responsive 1 .80
SC5: Informed about major changes 1 .72
SC6: Comfortable talking to manager when things go wrong 1 .67
Employee–organization
relationships
Trust 5 .90
Control mutuality 5 .87
Commitment 5 .92
Satisfaction 5 .92
Employee advocacy (EA) EA1: Speaking favorably about company in public 1 .94
EA2: Recommending the company’s brands, products, and
services to others
1 .84
Note. N ¼402, CFA model fit indices: (
2
(128) ¼463.85, p<.001, (
2
=df ¼3.62, root mean square error of
approximation ¼.08 (90%confidence interval: .07–.09), Standardized root mean square residual ¼.04, Tucker–Lewis
Index ¼.93, and Comparative Fit Index ¼. 94. All standardized factor loadings are significant at p<.001.
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 269
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fit than the simplified model: Dv
2
(2, N¼402) ¼.774, p¼.68. Therefore, the more parsimoni-
ous model was used as the final model to interpret path coefficients. The model fit indices of the
initial and final CFA models as well as the hypothesized structural and simplified final structural
models are presented in Table 2.
Hypothesis Testing
The study proposed eight hypotheses, six of which were fully supported by the data. The other
two were rejected. The results of each hypothesis test are presented as follows.
Direct effects. Hypotheses 1 predicts the positive effect of transformational leadership on
symmetrical communication. This hypothesis was supported by the data (Figure 3). In particular,
transformational leadership demonstrated a large positive effect on symmetrical internal com-
munication, b¼.77, p<. 001, indicating that strategic leadership plays a critical role in shaping
the organization’s symmetrical communication system.
Hypotheses 2 and 3 propose the positive effects of symmetrical internal communication on
employee–organization relationships and employee advocacy. Consistent with previous findings
(e.g., J. Kim & Rhee, 2011), the results supported hypothesis 2. Symmetrical communication
FIGURE 3 Results of the retained (simplified) model with the deleted nonsignificant paths. Coefficients are
standardized regression weights. p<.001.
TABLE 2
Data-Model Fits for Two-Step Structural Equation Modeling (n¼402)
Model v
2
Df p v
2
=df CFI TLI SRMR RMSEA
a
Dv
2
Initial CFA model 580.42 129 .001 4.50 .93 .91 .03 .09 (.08, .10)
Final CFA model 463.85 128 .001 3.62 .94 .93 .04 .08 (.07, .09) 116.57
Hypothesized structural model 463.85 128 .001 3.62 .94 .93 .04 .08 (.07, .09)
Final structural model 464.62 130 .001 3.57 .94 .93 .04 .08 (.07.09) .77
Note. CFI ¼Comparative Fit Index. TLI ¼Tucker–Lewis Index. SRMR ¼standardized root mean square residual.
RMSEA ¼root mean square error of approximation.
a
90%confidence interval (low, high).
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significantly and positively affected employee–organization relationships (b¼.60, p<.001).
When the organization’s internal communication system is characterized by openness, two-
way dialogues, collaboration, and concern with employees’ welfare and voices, a quality
organization–employee relationship is most likely to develop. Surprisingly, however, symmetri-
cal communication had a negligible direct effect on employee advocacy because of the strong
mediation effect of employee–organization relationships. Therefore, hypothesis 3 was rejected.
Hypothesis 4 posits a direct positive effect of employee–organization relationships on
employee advocacy. This hypothesis was supported (Figure 3): employee–organization relation-
ships significantly and positively affected employee organizational advocacy (b¼.79, p<.001).
This result implies that employees who perceive a mutually beneficial relationship with the
organization characterized by trust, control mutuality, commitment, and satisfaction are more
likely to publicly advocate for the organization.
18
Hypotheses 6 and 7 predict the positive effects of transformational leadership on employee–
organization relationships and employee advocacy, respectively. The results supported
hypothesis 6 but rejected hypothesis 7 (Figure 3). In particular, transformational leadership
demonstrated a large positive effect on employee–organization relationships (b¼.30,
p<.00). Employees led by transformational leaders are more likely to develop a positive
relationship with the organization. However, the direct effect of transformational leadership
on employee advocacy was non-significant because of the mediation effects of symmetrical
communication and employee–organization relationships.
Indirect (mediation) effects. A formal test of indirect effects through a bootstrap procedure
(N¼2,000) was conducted to test hypotheses 5 and 8. The indirect effects on paths from sym-
metrical communication to employee advocacy through employee–organization relationships
were significant (b¼.61, p¼.001, 95%CI ¼.43–.85). The indirect effects on paths from
transformational leadership to employee–organization relationships through symmetrical
communication (b¼.44, p¼.001, 95%CI ¼.35–.53) and from transformational leadership to
employee advocacy through symmetrical communication and employee–organization relation-
ships were also significant (b¼.57, p¼.001, 95%CI ¼.44–.71). Therefore, hypotheses 5
and 8 were supported. Employee–organization relationships mediate the effect of symmetrical
communication on employee advocacy. Symmetrical communication mediates the effects of
transformational leadership on employee outcomes.
DISCUSSIONS AND CONCLUSION
The internal communication system of an organization functions as a critical condition and a part
of excellent public relations (J. E. Grunig, 1992). As an extensive effort to expand knowledge on
excellence in internal communication, this study investigated the linkage among organizational
leadership (i.e., transformational leadership), the internal communication system (i.e., symmetri-
cal communication), and related employee outcomes (i.e., employee–organization relationships
and employee organizational advocacy). Results provided important implications for scholars
and professionals of public relations and organizational communication.
18
Keith (2006) proposed that a standardized coefficient (b)of<.05 suggests a negligible effect, .05–.10 a minimal
but meaningful effect, .10–.25 a moderate effect, and >.25 a significant effect.
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Transformational Leadership and Symmetrical Internal Communication
Leadership is the nucleus of the organization’s internal communication process (Mast & Huck,
2008). This study revealed the critical role of transformational leadership in shaping the sym-
metrical internal communication system of the organization. In particular, employees supervised
by transformational leaders are more likely to perceive the organization’s communication as
symmetrical. This finding can be explained by the fact that transformational leaders motivate
employees by appealing to their higher-order needs and care about their welfare, concerns,
and personal growth and development. To that end, transformational leaders encourage two-way
exchange in communication (Bass, 1998) and listen to the feedback and opinion of employees.
They often practice ‘‘management by walking around’’ and interact with employees face-to-
face. Transformational leaders also encourage innovativeness and creativity among their
followers and are tolerant of individual differences and value different opinions. Such leaders
align the individual goals of employees with group and organizational goals and foster collab-
oration among followers (Podsakoff et al., 1990; Podsakoff et al., 1996). Transformational
leaders also delegate power and tasks to develop followers. Thus, by listening effectively
to employees, responding to employees’ higher-order needs, caring about employees’ interests,
and empowering employees, transformational leadership communication reflects the key
attributes of symmetrical communication, by which employees discern a balance of power,
feel cared for rather than controlled or manipulated, and value collaboration. Such interactive,
visionary, inspiring, relationship-oriented, and empowering leadership communication (Bass,
1998; Hackman & Johnson, 2004) forms a major part of the organization’s symmetrical
communication system and promotes positive employee outcomes.
Transformational Leadership and Employee–Organization Relationships
Transformational leadership positively affects the job attitudes and behavior of employees (e.g.,
Behling & McFillen, 1996; DeGroot, Kiker, & Cross 2000; Dirks & Ferrin, 2002; Dumdum,
Lowe, & Avolio, 2002; Dvir, Eden, Avolio, & Shamir, 2002; Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Lowe,
Kroeck, & Sivasubramaniam, 1996; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Bommer, 1996). Men and Stacks
(2013) found that transformational leadership at the organizational level positively influences
employees’ perception of organizational reputation. Similarly, this study revealed that transfor-
mational leadership significantly and positively affects employee–organization relationships.
Employees perceive a desired relationship with the organization when they perceive their
managers to be engaging, visionary, inspiring, empowering, and caring. How employees feel
about the organization is largely affected by how they are treated by their direct managers.
Transformational leadership also indirectly affects employee–organization relationships via
symmetrical communication. Transformational leaders create an open, symmetrical, reciprocal,
horizontal, and employee-centered communication climate and system and thus engage employ-
ees in a quality relationship with the organization. Such a setting also produces positive
relational outcomes, such as employee trust, control mutuality, commitment, and satisfaction.
Therefore, through exerting influence on every aspect of the organization, transformational
leadership, as an organizational contextual factor, not only provide a hospitable environment
where excellent public relations is nurtured, but also directly contributes to the development of
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the organization’s symmetrical communication system and the cultivation of quality employee
organization relationships. The excellence researchers (Dozier et al, 1995; J. E. Grunig et al.,
1992; J. E. Grunig & L. A. Grunig, 2011; L. A. Grunig et al., 2002) have noted that management
behaviors (i.e., empowerment) and organizational infrastructures (i.e., organic structure,
participative culture) are fundamental influencers of the organization’s symmetrical communi-
cation. In this regard, the study was among the first to provide empirical evidence on how
a particular leadership style, transformational leadership, facilitates the establishment of the
organization’s internal communication system and influences communication outcomes.
Symmetrical Internal Communication, Employee–Organization Relationships, and
Employee Advocacy
This study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of symmetrical internal communi-
cation in nurturing quality employee–organization relationships (e.g., L. A. Grunig et al., 2002;
Jo & Shim, 2005; J. Kim & Rhee, 2011; Smidts, Pruyn, & van Riel, 2001). When the organi-
zation advocates open, two-way, and responsive communication, addresses the opinions and
concerns of employees, and boosts mutual understanding and collaboration, employees perceive
a positive relationship with the organization. Having employees involved indicates the organiza-
tion’s confidence and trust in employees and concern for them and thus provides employees
a sense of ownership regarding the organization and nurtures employee–organization relationships.
This study also established the linkage between employee relational outcomes and the
behavioral consequence of employee advocacy. The excellence study (e.g., L. A. Grunig et al.,
2002) suggests that long-term, positive relationships represent the value of public relations in that
such relationships may stimulate supportive public behavior while preventing destructive behavior.
However, empirical evidence on how quality relationships predict positive public behavior
toward the organization remains inconclusive (Ki & Hon, 2007). J. Kim and Rhee (2011) revealed
that employees with good relationships with the organization engage in microboundary-
spanning activities (i.e., self-propelled information seeking, selecting, forwarding, and sharing)
to support the organization. Similarly, our study found that employees who trust the organization
are satisfied with, and committed to, the organization, and agree on mutual influence are likely to
become corporate advocates that compliment, protect, and defend the organization in public and
recommend the organization, its product and services, and its brands to their personal networks.
In sum, the study indicates that the symmetrical internal communication system should be in
place for an organization to cultivate long-term, positive relationships with employees, which
in turn, increase the likelihood of employee advocacy behavior. Therefore, transformational
leadership and communication style should be developed to effectively and efficiently unlock
such internal advantage, maximize internal communication efforts, and eventually contribute
to business performance and organizational effectiveness.
THEORETICAL AND PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS
The findings of the study provide important theoretical and practical implications for public
relations, organizational communication, and management. Theoretically, first, by demonstrating
the impact of transformational leadership on symmetrical internal communication and employee
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS TO INTERNAL COMMUNICATION 273
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outcomes, this study empirically linked leadership to internal communication. It introduced a new
perspective to examine leadership in the context of public relations and a construct that can pro-
mote understanding of how organizational management and infrastructure affect the effectiveness
of internal communication. Past studies have acknowledged the nucleus role of leaders in internal
communication as information catalysts and employees’ most trusted source of information (e.g.,
De Vries, Bakker–Pieper, & Oostenveld, 2010; Holladay & Coombs, 1993; Men & Stacks, 2013).
However, a systematic and empirical examination of leadership impact on internal communication
is lacking. Thus, the questions about leadership communication included in this study open up
a broad new territory for both public relations and organizational research. Second, the findings
of the study help advance the theories of relationship management in the internal setting. Aside
from symmetrical internal communication, transformational leadership was found to be an impor-
tant antecedent factor for positive employee–organization relationships, and employee advocacy to
be a behavioral consequence of such relationships. These concepts and the hypothesized model
specified how to enhance relationships internally and ultimately create supportive public behavior
and maximize the success of external communication efforts. The increasing and undeniable
importance of employees as the informal public relations force and communication assets of orga-
nizations necessitates the adoption of a context-specific and stakeholder-specific theory of internal
relationship management to guide practice. In addition, this study theorizes on employee advocacy
(a buzzword in professional publications on public relations) as an ultimate outcome of internal
communication efforts and thus contributes to the theory of the value of public relations. That
is, the value of public relations lies not only in shaping favorable perceptions or building positive
public relationships but also in engendering supportive public behavior.
Practically, the findings provide implications for internal communication professionals on how
to nurture best practices, breed internal excellence, and generate positive employee outcomes.
In particular, this study suggests that a two-way, employee-centered, and responsive symmetrical
communication system should be developed to guide daily communication practices and optimize
employee communication. For example, organizations could establish an internal listening center
that specializes in gathering and analyzing employee feedback through all available channels.
Second, this study suggests that internal communication efforts are affected by management effec-
tiveness and leadership behavior. The realm of public relations interacts with other subsystems in
the organization to achieve business goals and objectives. For best practices of internal communi-
cation, public relations professionals should consider all influencing contextual factors such as
leadership, organizational culture, structure, and diversity (L. A. Grunig et al., 2012; Men,
2011a, 2011b; Men & Stacks, 2013) to develop an inherently cross-enterprise and optimized com-
munication system encompassing all leaders, managers, and employees. In such an integrated
communication system, leaders are critical influencers and should thus be enabled and empowered
to be excellent communicators (Berger, 2008; Men & Stacks, 2013).
To that end, public relations and internal communication professionals should provide
managers at all levels with accurate information aligned with organizational values and goals;
identify, describe, and celebrate role models among employees; offer necessary training sessions
to develop the transformational leadership style, communication competence, and skills of lea-
ders; and embrace modern-day changes to equip leaders with an arsenal of tools that facilitate
internal communication. Leaders should be encouraged to adopt open-door policies that enable
them to listen to employees, solicit opinions and ideas, and facilitate upward communication.
Social media channels (e.g., instant messengers, blogs=microblogs, and social network sites)
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with two-way, interactive=dialogical, communal, and relational features should be harnessed
to promote employee participation, engagement, and community building.
Most essentially, communication managers should link leadership=internal communication
to corporate returns on investment or business outcomes and develop effective measures and
metrics (e.g., at the dyadic, group, and organizational levels) to evaluate internal programs.
Successful measurement not only assists top management in understanding why internal
communication efforts are worth investing in, but also provides a roadmap for best practices.
Although building an integrated communication system requires the collaborative efforts of
public relations, human resources, management, and even operations, communication managers
should coordinate these functions; develop employee-specific, relevant messages; and promote
an open, symmetrical, and collaborative communication culture.
LIMITATIONS AND DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Despite the pioneering explorations of this study, several limitations were encountered and should
thus be addressed in future research. The first possible limitation was the common source measure-
ment; the data were collected only from the perspective of employees. To provide a more compre-
hensive understanding of how leadership influences internal communication, insights from public
relations professionals and organizational leaders should be incorporated. Second, the findings
can be generalized only to large and medium-sized corporations in the United States. Although
probability sampling improves the generalizability of this study, organizations outside the scope
of this study or those in other cultural settings should be careful in using the findings as reference.
Third, although this study contributes to a general understanding of the relationship among leader-
ship, internal communication, and employee outcomes, a triangulated approach incorporating
multiple methods, such as documentary analysis, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and participant
observation, would have provided in-depth and valid explanations about how the model works.
Future research may conduct replication procedures to cross-validate the results of this study
by using different samples from various organizational or cultural settings. Leadership might
exert a different degree of influence on employee communication in Asian organizations because
collectivist societies hold different attitudes toward power from those of individualist cultures
(Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). Qualitative research methods should be used to generate detailed,
descriptive, in-depth, and contextual understanding of the proposed model. An open-ended
qualitative approach could also facilitate the identification of potential mediators or moderators
of the effects revealed in this study. Incorporating the perspectives of public relations managers
into an examination of the relationships may provide a more comprehensive picture. Finally,
future researchers can incorporate other possible influencers of internal communication, such
as organizational culture, organizational structure, diversity issues, and job-related factors to
further test the model and expand the nomological network of excellent internal communication.
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... Symmetrical communication is one of the core characteristics of the strategic behavioral paradigm of communication management and public relations practices (Grunig and Hunt, 1984;Grunig et al., 1995). Symmetrical communication is defined in this study as an organizational communication culture practiced by the leadership that emphasizes "trust, credibility, openness, relationships, reciprocity, network symmetry, horizontal communication, feedback, adequacy of information, employee-centered style, tolerance for disagreement, and negotiation" (Grunig, 1992, p. 558;Kim and Rhee, 2011;Men, 2014). A symmetrical communication approach is typically adopted by the organizational leadership of most organizations, which results in a culture that values employee empowerment and collaboration, and promotes the mutual interests of all parties (Men, 2014). ...
... Symmetrical communication is defined in this study as an organizational communication culture practiced by the leadership that emphasizes "trust, credibility, openness, relationships, reciprocity, network symmetry, horizontal communication, feedback, adequacy of information, employee-centered style, tolerance for disagreement, and negotiation" (Grunig, 1992, p. 558;Kim and Rhee, 2011;Men, 2014). A symmetrical communication approach is typically adopted by the organizational leadership of most organizations, which results in a culture that values employee empowerment and collaboration, and promotes the mutual interests of all parties (Men, 2014). ...
... Symmetrical communication is one of the key components of internal employee communication (Men, 2014). Organizations that implement symmetrical communication in employee communication programs are decentralized and give employees autonomy within the organization. ...
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Purpose This research aims to examine how two management strategies (symmetrical communication and inclusive management) work in handling workplace conflicts (interpersonal/organizational levels), especially with regard to employee advocacy and job turnover intentions. Design/methodology/approach A total of three employee survey datasets were used to test hypotheses and research questions. Two secondary datasets were obtained in South Korea ( N = 600 and N = 285), and one dataset was collected in the USA ( N = 381). A series of hierarchical multiple regressions were performed for each dataset. Findings All three studies showed that interpersonal workplace conflict increased not only job turnover but also advocacy. In addition, in South Korean employees, both symmetrical communication and inclusive management increased employee advocacy and decreased job turnover intentions. However, in the US data, only symmetrical communication had such effects, enhancing employee advocacy and lowering job turnover intentions. Originality/value The study provides insights for practitioners into how to handle workplace conflicts from the perspective of communication (symmetrical communication) and/or behavioral strategies (inclusive management). Also, as an index to examine the effectiveness of management strategies, this study suggests advocacy behavior of employees given its effect of “rallying the troops.”
... Within an internal communication context, researchers studying employee-organization relationships (EORs) have viewed this variable "as a conceptual extension of the OPR in the employee relations context" (Kang & Sung, 2017, p. 84). Given this relationship, the four dimensions included in the OPRs measurement scale are among the most frequently cited indicators of EOR quality in the public relations literature (e.g., J. N. Kim & Rhee, 2011;Men, 2014). ...
... Not only did employee-team relationships mediate the association between positive emotional culture and employee voice, but it also served as a mediator connecting motivating language and employee voice. Previous studies have argued that quality EORs significantly mediated the relationship between organizational behaviors and employees' inrole and extra-role behaviors (e.g., Kang & Sung, 2017Men, 2014;Thelen, 2019). Our findings aligned and expanded these studies by underscoring the importance of employees' relationships with their work unit. ...
... Furthermore, our results suggest that the more individuals perceive quality relationships with their team, the more they will engage in upward communication. Although prior research has consistently shown the positive impact of EORs on employees' inrole and extra-role behaviors (e.g., Kang & Sung, 2017Men, 2014;Thelen, 2019), we made one of the first attempts to link employees' voice behavior with employees' perceptions of relationship quality with their teams. ...
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The extent to which employees convey or withhold useful information has important implications for organizational effectiveness. Nevertheless, employee voice is under-researched in the public relations literature. Grounded in social exchange theory and internal communication literature, the current study addressed this research gap by arguing that leaders’ communication style plays a pivotal role in employee voice behavior. Drawing data from the U.S. (N = 441) and India (N = 354), this study tests a normative model linking leaders’ motivating language, team culture, employee-team relationships, and employees’ voice behavior. Notably, in both samples, motivating language was positively related to a healthy team culture, which in turn, is positively associated with employees’ relationship quality with their working unit, and ultimately, employees’ voice. The Indian sample showed similar patterns as the U.S. sample, except that there was no direct relationship between leader motivating language and employee voice for the Indian sample.
... This study is inspired by relationship management theory by Ledingham (2003) and the public relations literature on faculty-organizational relationships. Cultural and societal roots, relationship development tactics, communications, and outcomes of interactions make up the relationships (Men, 2014). The relationships, hence developed, are the changeable outcomes of interactions between an organization and the various organizational and the outside groups (Ledingham, 2003). ...
... The faculty perspectives on the quality of the faculty-organization connection are favorably predicted by the integration of faculty members in the organization. Furthermore, the faculty perceptions of the faculty-organization interaction are favorably associated with transformational leadership style (Men, 2014). ...
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Employees are critical stakeholders for an organization because they directly deal with the end-users and represent the entire firm. To recognize the strategic importance of the employees, organizations create communication programs to keep employees apprised of organizational issues. In this regard, this study examined the role of communication strategies (i.e., information flow, information adequacy, and information feedback) on organizational commitment. The study also investigated the mediating effect of faculty engagement between communication strategies and organizational commitment. Self-administered survey aided in acquiring data from 276 English language teachers in China. The analysis of the data was conducted using SmartPLS through the Structured Equation Modeling technique. The outcome of the study demonstrated that information flow and information feedback significantly impact organizational commitment and faculty engagement. The analysis also revealed that information adequacy significantly impacts organizational commitment but has no relationship with faculty engagement. The mediation analysis demonstrated that faculty engagement mediated the relationship between information flow and organizational commitment and between information feedback and organization commitment. However, faculty engagement did not mediate the relationship between information adequacy and organizational commitment among English language teachers in China. In theoretical terms, the study contributed in terms of incorporating different communication strategies and examining their effect on organizational commitment and faculty engagement. In practical terms, this study would be beneficial for the management of the educational institutes to develop different ways of enhancing communication strategies within the institute. This study also provided directions for the future, for example, conducting the study on other subject teachers, increasing the sample, carrying out the research in a different context, and adding different mediators and moderators in the existing model.
... Responding to this, Jason Frank, the CEO of MSL-Group, posited that the employees have been emerging as the ultimate reputation builders for an organization, where an organization sells its experiences instead of product or services, and where the truth is shared by the insiders (the employees; Frank, 2015). In spite of the mounting importance of employee advocacy behavior, research in this area is still limited (Men, 2014). Given that the prior research studies have primarily focused on the advocacy behavior of consumers (Chelminski and Coulter, 2011;Jayasimha and Billore, 2016), there is a need to carry out more research in this area from the perspective of employees. ...
... In like vein, Schweitzer and Lyons (2008) define employee advocacy as an act of employees to work as part-time marketers to promote the organization to potential consumers and employees. Another definition of employee advocacy (which is applied here too) was provided by Men (2014) who argued that "it is a behavioral construct that is entirely voluntary in its nature and the employees under this philosophy act not only as of the promoters but also as defenders for their organization, its product and services and its brand to the external community. " When linked to the current work's context, as employee advocacy behavior is a voluntary commitment of employees with their organization, such volunteer commitment can be well linked with the CSR orientation (a voluntary organizational commitment) of an organization. ...
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Considering the stiff competitiveness situation in every sector, promoting the advocacy behavior of employees is of seminal importance for an organization. With this regard, the hospitality sector has no exceptions, however, a review of the prior literature uncovers that most of the prior studies on advocacy behavior were conducted from the standpoint of consumers, and the role of employees’ advocacy behavior, especially in the context of the hospitality sector, remained an understudied area. Research also shows that the corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts of an organization can significantly influence employees’ behavior but the relationship of CSR to spur employees’ advocacy behavior was not discussed earlier. Against this knowledge gap, the current work aims to investigate the relationship between CSR and employees’ advocacy behavior in the hotel sector of a developing economy with the mediating effect of employees’ engagement. A hypothesized model was developed, which was validated by collecting data from different hotel employees through a self-administered questionnaire. The findings offer different theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, one important implication was that the CSR perceptions of hotel employees can drive their advocacy behavior. Practically, the study implicates that hotels can improve their reputation significantly by converting their employees into advocates, as the personal information source is preferred over company-generated information sources. Moreover, the CSR commitment of a hotel can lead the employees to a higher level of engagement, which then motivates them to act as advocates.
... Linking transformational leadership, symmetrical communication, and employee outcomes (Men, 2014). El segundo autor más citado fue James Grunig y entre sus materiales más populares están ...
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Academia and organizations tend to agree on the importance they give to internal communication as a discipline of knowledge and as a strategic issue in organizational management. However, many organizations omit the systematic application of this type of communication and the academy has not produced, to date, a systematic body of knowledge. In order for these situations to be recognized and worked on, research work is necessary to build an integrating theoretical body. What this work proposes is to review the publications on internal communication (IC) to inquire about the recent advance in this knowledge and its applications. To accomplish this, four of the most important academic journals on communication in organizations were reviewed according to the SCImago Journal & Country Rank. They are: Public Relations Review, Management Communication Quarterly, International Journal of Strategic Communication and Journal of Communication Management. The period of analysis was carried out between 2015 and 2021. Bibliometric indicators used were: the number of articles on internal communication published, broken down by journal, year and number, most used words and phrases. The authors were also studied by analyzing the number of signatures per article, who published more on internal communication, as well as the most cited experts. The results in the 125 issues reveal a discreet presence of IC since of 1278 articles published, 126 dealt with the subject, which represented 9.87% of the total. The journal that published the most on IC was Public Relations Review with 38 articles, followed by Management Communication Quarterly with 35. Journal of Communication Management edited 32 articles, leaving International Journal of Strategic Communication as the journal that dealt with the subject the least with 21. All journals made special editions on various topics, but the Journal of Communication Management was the only one that made an extraordinary edition dedicated to IC under the title Internal Communication during the COVID-19 Pandemic published in volume 25, number 3, July 2021. The most productive year for IC was 2021 with 32 articles. Throughout the period, 55 issues were published without articles on IC, 36 with one, 20 with two, nine with three, four with four articles and only one issue with seven, the special edition. Among the most used words are employee (s), social, strategic, engagement, media and crisis. And the most used phrase after “internal communication” is “social media”. The most cited author was also the most productive in the period studied: Lijuan Rita Men. Other authors who published multiple times included Cen April Yue, Ana Tkalac Verčič, Jeong Nam Kim, and Vibeke Thøis Madsen. James Grunig, Ansgar Zerfass, François Cooren, Linda L. Putnam, Mary Welch, and W. Timothy Coombs were also frequently cited. In conclusion, and despite the increased interest caused by the pandemic, internal communication is not a priority issue in the reviewed journals. A greater emphasis on normative and instrumental aspects was also detected, with a clear orientation towards the solution of specific organizational problems, that is, a functionalist perspective, centered on management. This article seeks to support both scholars and professionals of internal communication, leaving within their reach, in addition to this review, the challenge of increasing research to generate knowledge in internal organizational communication.
... Comunicar é fácil, mas complexo (Santos, 2018;Halimah & Sukmayadi, 2019). (Kim & Rhee, 2011;Men, 2014;Othman et al., 2017;Bekiari & Ntakou, 2018). ...
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... IJCHM Moreover, employee-focused, responsive and reciprocal horizontal communication patterns must be developed to facilitate daily employee communications. For example, organizations must form internal listening cells with expertise in assembling and evaluating the employee feedback received through multiple channels (Men, 2014). When hospitality sector employees feel ensured about access to information and the importance of their participation in organizational processes, they are better placed to overcome emotional distress. ...
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