Air War College is part of The Air University- click to close

Visit The Air University

Effective Communication:
An essential foundation for leadership

In a 2010 United States European Command blog post, Admiral (ret.) James Stavridis noted, "The enormous irony of the military profession is that we are huge risk takers in what we do operationally ... but publishing an article, posting a blog, or speaking to the media can scare us badly. We are happy to take personal risk or operational risk, but too many of us won't take career risk."

The military understands mission planning and operational risk management; however, too few leaders seem to understand the same models can serve them well in the area of communication.

We live in a global information environment. Technology allows leaders to communicate with vast audiences instantly, whether through traditional press outlets or the ever-growing number of Internet-based channels. This dynamic carries many risks, but also unprecedented opportunities for those who hone their communication skills. Leaders who can articulate their organization's mission are valuable assets.

Technology empowers leaders to communicate with audiences.
U.S. Air Force photo by
Senior Airman Rusty Frank
DoD Principles of Information

The Charge

The Defense Department recognizes its obligation to provide information to the public in support of a free and open society. DoD Directive 5122.05, DoD Principles of Information, requires the department, through its public affairs programs, to provide accurate and timely information to facilitate public understanding about national security and defense strategy. In committing to this standard, DoD seeks to maintain its credibility with the public it serves. There is more to this effort, though, than standing in front of reporters when something goes wrong.

Leaders at all levels need to seek opportunities to communicate the importance of their missions, and how they provide for the defense of the nation. Building understanding, confidence and trust requires time and consistent effort.

Most people gain whatever knowledge and appreciation they have of the military not from direct contact or experience, but from remote observation. News media have covered every major engagement in which we have participated, and much of the public's opinion of military effectiveness comes from press accounts.

While this guide is focused on working with traditional media, keep in mind that these concepts can be used in all forms of communication.

The Challenge

DoD policy is to provide the most timely, accurate information available, consistent with the requirements of operational security and the privacy of its personnel. Therein lies a constant tension in priorities -- one that requires the same care in mission preparation as any other military operation.

Regardless of the event, if leaders are to effectively represent the military position on an issue they must understand the communication process. We must tell our story in support of national security and public accountability.

We must tell our story in support of national security and public accountability.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by
Sgt. Alisa J. Helin
Guide Quicklinks:   Top  |  Table of Contents  |  Next Chapter: Chapter 2