Five years ago, the events of 2011 – including the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement and protests around the world against political and financial leaders – prompted us to set out on a journey. One that would seek answers to answer two simple questions: “What does the world think of its leaders?” and “What can those leaders, and the organisations they steer, do to restore confidence?
Fast-forward to summer 2016 and we could not have imagined that our exploration of this critical area – through our annual, multi-country Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor study – would be quite so relevant, at a time pretty much unprecedented in British political and national life.
If I had a pound for every time the word “leadership” has been mentioned over the past few weeks, I likely would not be penning this now. But with that early retirement now less likely than ever, what have five years’ worth of conversations with over 25,000 consumers across 15 countries and five continents told us about perceptions of leaders in politics, businesses, NGOs, trade unions and communities? And crucially, what does it mean for our industry?
In our Five-Year Worldview, we have stood back from the wealth of insights emerging from the past five years and suggested five key questions professional communicators and the leaders they advise might ask themselves – together with five best practices they might consider. Drawing on that and the experience of working with clients on leadership communication around the world, here is my personal take on the standout issues that present very real challenges and implications for our profession.
- The future of leadership communication will be more “feminine” … Yet again this year, our research sees respondents believing clearly believing that female leaders outperform their male counterparts on the top-three leadership attributes those same respondents feel matter most. In both the leadership counsel we provide to clients and how we move forward the gender configuration of our profession (particularly at a senior level), we would do well to consider these findings. This is not about women being better than men, but rather both genders having something to learn if they listen to what their followers actually seek.
- … as well as more title-less and diverse: Year after year, the KLCM data finds a world craving leadership from across the organisation, rather than purely from the top, with employees overall leaving the C-Suite trailing as trusted sources of information. At the same time, our 2016 research has unveiled a complex “leadership glass ceiling” that goes far beyond gender. Areas such as disability, ethnicity and sexual orientation are still seen as major barriers to equal opportunity. Again, both with our clients and within our own organisations, thinking through our audiences’ expectations of diverse modern leadership is something we should be looking at closely.
- Words and deeds are now indivisible: To say that we should be counselling clients on their corporate strategy and behaviour – as well as their communication – is not new. However, “open, transparent communication” has been in KLCM’s top-two leadership attributes every year since 2011, our 2016 data shows a 40-point gap between expectation and delivery on leaders’ communication, and ‘leading by example’ is the top attribute for the second year in a row. So whilst we may have talked the talk as an industry when it comes to helping clients avoid damaging “say-do gaps”, the scope collectively to up our game further is considerable.
- Don’t just talk – listen – if you want permission to lead: As communicators we are hard-wired – funnily enough – to want to help those we work with communicate. And yet for all the talk of dialogue replacing monologue, the events of the last week have shown that an absence of humility, a refusal to admit mistakes and an apparent refusal to hear what is being said on the part of our leaders has led to a mass withdrawal of followership and leadership “permission”. These also happens to be the repeated findings of KLCM and as an industry, we should think about how we translate those insights into how we help organisations come to terms with the highly uncertain new normal.
Ketchum Global Research & Analytics conducted an online survey of 3,001 respondents in 10 markets from March 29 to April 19, 2016. These markets included the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, China, Singapore, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and Brazil. The global margin of error is +/-1.79 percent. The research explored respondents’ views of both different categories of leader (business, political, community, non-profit and union/labor organization) and of 22 vertical industries. All data collection was handled by Ipsos Observer.
Written by Rod Cartwright, partner and director, global corporate and public affairs practice at PR firm Ketchum