Leadership study obliges PR leaders to act

PR execs can  influence other leaders

Image: Rusty Crawshaw

PR executives may not be responsible for how other leaders perform but we should call out poor leadership, agitate for leader development and model behaviours others can follow.

Biggest ever survey

Last week the Melbourne-based Centre for Workplace Leadership launched the Study of Australian Leadership, the largest ever survey of its kind in Australia.

The Study looked at the  state of leadership and management across the economy. And although it has crucial, nationwide implications it received scant attention probably because the Federal Election is absorbing all attention.

Almost 8,000 people in 2,703 organisations and 2,561 workplaces took part in five surveys including CEOs, HR specialists, midlevel managers, front line leaders and employees.  It is the first major review of Australian leadership and management since the landmark Karpin Report in 1995.

Unflattering picture

The Study finds today’s public and private organisations face unprecedented challenges including slow economic growth, technology disruption, increasing competition and a complex regulatory landscape. Australia’s leaders work amid heightened ambiguity and uncertainty and the Study suggests their performances are average at best.

More than 40 percent of  workplaces fail to meet their targets for return on investment and profitability and around a one-third don’t make sales targets. Only 18 percent report high levels of radical innovation (the capacity to adapt or shape a shifting marketplace.)

This lacklustre performance may be because many leaders are not well trained for their role and one in four top leaders in private organisations only has a high school education. Older white men dominate leadership ranks leaving those from non English speaking backgrounds, women and younger people under-represented. Many are yet to master basic management fundamentals and many CEOs do not draw on outside advice as they plot a path through a competitive and disruptive global economy.

The Study, like other recent research, finds front line leaders hold important if unsung sway in their organisations. A good leader supervising shop floor staff can have a positive influence on loyalty, results and engagement levels – plus they can inspire workers to innovate and change.

So what for PR?

What does this mean for those of us in senior communication roles?  As a profession have we a responsibility to improve the standards of leadership in our organisations and if so how can we do it? I believe we need to get involved if for no other reasons than we rely on fellow leaders to do our job and we’re responsible for helping them communicate within and beyond our organisations.

One particular concern from the Study is that few senior leaders get advice from external sources when they plan the way forward. The majority say their boards defer to them on the big decisions. That’s a concern because when important decisions are made in an organisational tunnel, they produce poor strategic insights and a shaky foundation to launch any effort to engage and persuade others.

For the long term health of our organisations we need to be inside the boardroom when corporate directions and top-line strategies are being crafted. If others fail to factor in outside influences, PR leaders are obliged to step forward.  It is up to us to argue for better strategies for the future based on our intimate understanding of audiences and our appreciation of the trust we enjoy with governments, the community and the media.

As PR executives we may not be responsible for fellow leaders perform.  But we should call out poor leadership when we see it, agitate for leader development and model behaviours others can follow. We can inspire our peers by showing how creative we are winning staff commitment, creating career paths, developing and promoting our people and overseeing and rewarding performance. In other words demonstrate to others how skilfully we build and lead our communications teams.






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