Communication is a key pillar of any organization, and effective communication is the engine that drives its growth, believes journalist-cum-professor Martin Löffelholz.
“Even if you have a good product, you won’t be able to sell it if no one knows about it,” said the new rector of Swiss German University, emphasizing the importance of communication in effectively conveying a message to an audience.
He also believes in communication as a strategic task. As the leader of the university since March, he perceives communication as a strategic function of a CEO.
“It means that a CEO, or a top level manager, needs to be very involved in all internal and external communication activities.”
SGU applies an integrated approach to the institution’s three different areas of communication: marketing, public relations and internal communication.
“The three communication areas are executed with a strategic perspective. The marketing department has developed a number of strategies to promote our institution,” Löffelholz explained.
“The role of public relations is to create a positive image. However, a positive image can only be created if the whole team is doing a good job in providing quality products or delivering outstanding service. The team would not be able to perform well without having good internal communication.”
In establishing good internal communications, he has adopted a participatory leadership style.
“This means that everyone in the institution is important. I want to hear all of the voices from all of the different units, faculties and deans, from heads of departments to individual lecturers. We want to utilize the knowledge and expertise of these people when defining our future and strategic goals and of course for the day-to-day business operations,” he said.
“If you believe only you know what’s best for your institution then you can’t apply the participatory approach. You will miss out on gaining knowledge and expertise from middle management. The participatory approach allows you to accept different opinions, even if they are critical. If you can involve others in the decision making process, you will have better results.”
Löffelholz, 52, has fingers in many pies. Apart from leading SGU, he also serves as the head of the Ilmenau Centre for Public Diplomacy Research and Training, and the academic director of the International Research Group on Crisis Communication based in Germany.
Working as a journalist in the 1980s, he moved to a career in academia after earning his doctorate in 1988. He has since taught at various higher education institutions in several different countries.
Prior to becoming the SGU rector, he was a full-time professor at Ilmenau University of Technology, Germany. He has also conducted various research projects as well as writing hundreds of academic publications on various issues such as public relations, political communications, internal communications and crisis communications.
His first visit to Indonesia was in 1999, during the time of political instability and the economic crisis.
“The conflicts led me to come to Indonesia as part of my research on crisis and war communications. Two weeks into my stay, I started to love the country: the culture, the tradition and especially the people. I returned the following year as a visiting professor in the School of Communications at Atma Jaya University, Yogyakarta,” he recalled.
Now, as an expatriate living in Indonesia once again, Löffelholz said that he looked forward to visiting more places in the archipelago. The German-born professor loves scuba diving, having done it many times in Indonesia and other Asian countries.
“I’ve been scuba diving many times in the Philippines, and in areas of Bali and Lombok. Gili Trawang is my favorite. I would like to visit Raja Ampat in the near future. I’ve heard it’s a great place to scuba dive,” Martin said.
His weekend is usually very short, often using the time to fulfill work duties. “This coming Saturday’s EduFest will see me spending all day on campus.” he said with a smile, while pointing at a brochure.
Edufest is the SGU’s annual open house, which exhibits SGU’s study programs to the public. The university also has other many events, such as workshops and seminars, and he always looks forward to getting involved in events on campus.
Good time management is how Löffelholz handles his busy work agenda, which is filled to the brim with appointments. Discipline combined with strategic thinking, and a good analytical mind can best describe his personal strengths, which are infused into his participatory leadership style.
When asked if there was a role model who had inspired his leadership style, he quickly responded, “No! I admire professionalism, expert knowledge and people who speak many languages. I speak German and English. In the past, I learned Russian, Spanish and Latin, but I rarely use those languages today. One of my goals for the coming year is to be able to speak Indonesian in daily conversation.”
Text and photos by Aulia R. Sungkar. Published in The Jakarta Post on May 12, 2012.