Author(s), Title and Publication:

Mayfield, M., & Mayfield, J. (2016). The effects of leader motivating language use on employee decision making. International Journal of Business Communication, 53(4), 465-484.


Quality employee decision-making that advances organizational objectives is a key element in an organization’s ability to make the rapid, flexible, organizational responses that are necessary for global competitive ability. Leader communication plays a significant role in improving the quality and effectiveness of employee decision-making, manifested by employee innovation, team creative idea generation, employee efficacy, and employee performance. Drawing on motivating language theory, this article examines the linkage between strategic leader verbal communication and effective employee decision making.

Specifically, strategic leader verbal communication includes (1) direction giving language, which clarifies worker job duties, goals, and responsibilities, (2) empathetic language, which shares a leader’s humanity with a worker and forges interpersonal bonds between a leader and a worker, and (3) meaning-making language, which transmits cultural norms and expectations to workers. These verbal communication strategies, or languages, make worker delegated task objectives and rewards transparent, demonstrate leaders’ appreciation for employees’ effective decision-making, and facilitate effective employee decision-making through expression of cultural values, norms, goals, and personal significance. Therefore, the authors project that these three strategies constitute leaders’ motivating language, which eventually improve the quality of employee decision-making.

A total of 123 undergraduate and graduate students were surveyed for data collection. The structural equation modeling results provide strong support for the proposed model, such that for every 10% increase in motivating language use, there is a 2.5% increase in employee decision-making effectiveness. Particularly, all three verbal language strategies have significant contribution to the composition of motivating languages.

Implications for Practitioners

Contemporary workplaces are radically changing from the traditional autocratic top-down command and control structures of the past to the proliferation of networked, team managed, and decentralized organizational systems. To meet this challenge, organizational leaders should employ all three verbal communication languages to engage employees in effective decision-making and motivate employees to embrace empowerment. Specifically, leaders should (1) communicate clearly about the job duties and rewards, (2) verbally appreciate employees’ effective decision-making, and (3) build a common ground of cultural norms and values with employees through verbal communication.

Location of Article

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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