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Leaders from business, political and religious life are falling desperately short of expectations around the world – with Europeans and Americans the most disillusioned according to a 12-country survey by global communications firm Ketchum. More people globally believe leadership will actually get worse in 2012. Quite startling the report found a 28% gap between expectations of leaders and their delivery against those expectations
The study reveals leadership credibility in 2012 and beyond requires a combination of decisive action and honest, transparent communication – most effectively achieved through a leader’s personal presence and involvement.
“Our study reveals for the first time the full extent of the world’s disappointment with its leaders across every category of human endeavor,” said Rod Cartwright, Director of Ketchum’s Global Corporate Practice. “What is clear is that effective leadership and effective communication are inextricably linked
Perhaps unexpectedly, the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor found that business leaders were seen as the most effective over the past year – beating politicians, not-for-profit bosses and even religious leaders. More than a third of respondents said they were more confident in business leaders than a year ago, with 36% viewing business as providing effective leadership (receiving an “excellent” rating of 8 or above on a scale of 0-10) and 48% seeing them as effective communicators.
This compared with just 25% of politicians and religious leaders, who achieved the same “excellent” rating. Although expectations of politicians to provide effective leadership in difficult times were higher than any other group (63%), they suffered the lowest vote of confidence, with 47% expecting worse political leadership in 2012.
Within the business community, knowledge-based industries were perceived as having the most effective bosses. Ranked highest on leadership effectiveness was technology, with a 44% approval rating, followed by media (39%) and telecommunications (36%). Banking chiefs came in fourth overall in the poll worldwide with 32%. The energy sector and financial services leaders were ranked fifth (31%) and sixth (30%) respectively. Consumer business leaders lagged far behind on leadership, with consumer packaged goods placed lowest at 20%.
Perhaps most significant for the business community, the research underlines a direct link between positive perceptions of leadership and business-critical decisions such as a willingness to buy stock, goods and services or recommend working at a company. This explains crisis response being seen as the most important area for business leaders to communicate personally (53%), followed by financial results (48%) and the state of the business (40%).
Clear, transparent communication topped the table of key leadership behaviors. For 84%, effective communication is extremely important to strong leadership, while 48% rated it as the number one factor. However, action matters – with tough decision-making, leading by example and calm crisis-handling following immediately behind.
The study also revealed that globally, the number one action leaders should take to restore confidence in 2012 is to be open and honest about the nature and scale of the challenge ahead (57% US; 52% Europe vs. 43% China). By contrast, only 17% indicated a preference for leaders to spare them the full picture to avoid panic.
Trustworthiness was seen as the number one source of leadership credibility for corporations, placed above quality of management and financial strength. In order to win that trust, the report found that the personal “presence” and involvement of a leader in communicating was vital. As a result, communication via face-to-face and traditional media left social media trailing. Face-to-face contact provided the greatest source of leadership credibility (50%), followed by televised speeches (43%), broadcast media (41%) and print media (38%). Digital platforms and social media were well off pace, with blogs at 20%, Facebook at 16%, advertising at 13% and Twitter at just 8%.
Cartwright said: “It is clear that mainstream media still carries a great deal of credibility. When it comes to digital and social media, the message is that most people don’t believe that the leader is actually involved. This doesn’t mean we should conclude that these channels are redundant as a vehicle for establishing credible leadership – quite the contrary. Rather, it underlines the absolute imperative of making the ‘presence’ of the leader shine through.”