My grandfather worked in a blacksmith shop when he was a boy, and he used to tell me how he had toughened himself up so he could stand the rigors of blacksmithing.
One story was how he had developed his arm and shoulder muscles. He said he would stand outside behind the house and, with a five-pound potato sack in each hand, extend his arms straight out to his sides and hold them there as long as he could. After awhile he tried 10-pound potato sacks, then 50-pound potato sacks, and finally he got to where he could lift a 100-pound potato sack in each hand and hold his arms straight out for more than a full minute! Eventually, he started putting potatoes in the sacks!
This joke reminds me of some people who go through the motions of leadership and communication without really knowing why or how their effort influences others or their organization. The communication is empty, void of real substance. This is one of the reasons strategic communication is so important.
It’s similar to one of my favorite quotes related to communication, “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t you think?” You may recognize this from L. Frank Braum’s Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Of course, I’m not implying that those who don’t communicate strategically lack brains, but they certainly could communicate smarter, and much more effectively, through strategic communication. In addition to understanding how strategic communication improves effectiveness, it’s also helpful to understand what one can do with a degree in strategic communication.
A quick online job search revealed more than 50,000 jobs in strategic communication (LinkedIn, 2016). Just as important as finding work within strategic communication, the work of a person communicating strategically will be much more effective. This is true regardless of where in the organization a person may be, but it becomes even more important the higher in the organization one is serving, or would like to be serving someday.
Based on my own experiences as a leader and communicator, I believe that strategic communication adds a great deal of value, regardless of whether one has a strategic communication title or not. It’s one of those skills that transcends all functions within any organization. It’s kind of like the advice from George Harrison, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” (Harrison, 2003).
Perhaps you’ve worked in an organization where you weren’t sure where you were headed or what purpose your efforts served. Chances are good that your leaders were not communicating strategically. Think back to that experience, and imagine how the experience could have been different with some strategic communication providing a roadmap for where you and your fellow workers were headed. Instead of just marking time, you could be making a difference. A real difference with real consequences. This is the kind of organization that is possible with effective strategic communication.
Now, think about your own communication. Is it strategic? Can you describe why your efforts are important and how your influence supports the overall objectives of the organization? If this is an area in which you want to improve, studying strategic communication can help. Learning theory and putting this theory into practice can help you professionally and personally. Think of it like adding potatoes to a sack, especially if you want to fill your communication with purpose.
Alvin Plexico, PhD is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.