What people want in a leader

The leadership race in the UK is changing by the hour. Our political parties are in turmoil and you cannot Ketchum_logopredict what will happen next.

So it’s timely to see the release of new international research across five continents, which reveals “feminine, title-less and diverse leaders” are the most successful.

If you’re studying communication, want to know more about leadership comms or would like to have the latest research to hand, read on.

I’m going to take you through the 5th annual Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor (KLCM).

It’s a worthwhile read, grab a cup of tea. You can download the whole study from their website.

Among its many findings are the existence of an extensive glass ceiling and how perceptions of leaders have hit a new low according to 25,000 people surveyed over five years.

Ketchum is a leading global communications firm with operations in more than 70 countries across six continents. You can follow conversations online using #KLCM on Twitter.

What do I think?

Aligning communication and action is the way forward. The only way forward, when it comes to leadership communication.

How could this play out for us here in the UK? Hmm, that’s a whole other blog post.

One thing I want to highlight is the fact the “more feminine” leadership archetype is regardless of the leader’s gender.

According to Ketchum, although the world continues to look more to male leaders to steer it through difficult times (61 per cent to 39 per cent looking to female leaders), female leaders in 2016 continue to outperform male counterparts on a majority of the attributes seen as most important to effective leadership, including all of the top three.

In 2016, those characteristics that female leaders “best demonstrate” were found to be: leading by example, communicating in an open and transparent way and admitting mistakes. Tweet this

We could do with some of that in the UK right now with all the Brexit chaos dominating thoughts and headlines!

This is what they found:

KLCM 2016

Further reading
I recommend Ketchum’s Leadership Communication Monitor from 2015. It found leaders no longer reside only at the top of an org chart, nor do they necessarily possess traditional leadership titles.

What does the 2016 study reveal?

The 10-country study has unearthed a profound multi-dimensional leadership glass ceiling that goes beyond gender.

I find this incredibly frustrating, particularly as a mum to three young children. Generations above and around me have restricted each other for all sorts of reasons, gender included.

What will the workplace landscape look like when my children enter the world of work? What restrictions will they encounter?

The study also shines a new light on the extent of the global crisis of political leadership, identifies key causes and provides a clear five-step roadmap to restoring confidence in politicians, based on lessons from business leaders.

I think the steps apply to all leaders, and have included them at the end of this article.


What did the study look at?
KLCM explored the perceptions of more than 3,000 people in 10 countries regarding effective leadership, effective communication and the intrinsic link between the two.

Even in 2016, stark barriers blocking equal access to leadership opportunities remain stubbornly in place when it comes to race, gender, disability and sexual orientation.

Moreover, political leaders globally are seen by survey respondents to be part of the problem – not the solution – to workplace and social inequality, and business is seen to hold the key in a post-Brexit World.

The findings of KLCM 2016 – backed by five years of research – present the corporate community with an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way on key social and economic issues if business leaders are open to aligning what they say with what they do in those critical areas.

How often does that happen? The ‘say-do’ gap is typically a large one.

Do your leaders hold themselves accountable to keeping their promises to your employees and customers?


Commenting on the findings, Rod Cartwright, partner and director of Ketchum’s Global Corporate & Public Affairs Practice, says: “Five years of global research have starkly highlighted the low-trust, high-expectation gap that exists for leaders, resulting in a significant negative impact on the bottom-line.

This year’s results show unambiguously that business leaders have a huge opportunity to improve confidence levels by breaking through the multiple diversity barriers that still exist to equal leadership opportunity.”

ketchum_klcm_2016_infographic_final copy

Political leadership in crisis

With the U.K.’s dramatic Brexit vote shining a light on the challenges facing political leaders, the research found that:

  • Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents globally believe politicians have fallen short of expectations
  • Only 7 percent believe politicians take appropriate responsibility when they fall short
  • Only 1 in 5 (22 per cent) saying politicians lead effectively
  • Just 12 per cent of respondents anticipate an improvement over the coming year and more than half (51 per cent) expect performance to get even worse.

At the root of this deepening global crisis of confidence in political leaders is the perception that they are getting the right things wrong and the wrong things right.

In the three areas of greatest importance to respondents (corruption, the national economy and education) there is a sizable gap between the importance of the issue and political leaders’ effectiveness in addressing them.

Ahead of the US Party Conventions in mid-July and following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, the message of “must do better” for political leaders around the world could not be clearer.

With consumers still favouring leadership from across the organisation and continuing to believe female leaders are outperforming male counterparts in the areas that matter most, the question for leaders of all kinds is simple:

– are you truly ready to lead and communicate in a world craving leadership that is more “feminine”, title-less and diverse?

Five-step roadmap for restoring confidence in political leaders

Ketchum’s 2016 study findings, reinforced by data from the past five years that represents conversations with more than 25,000 consumers from around the world, points to a five-step approach to start restoring the low confidence in political leaders across five continents:

  1. Close the gap between expectation and delivery on the issues people deem having the greatest importance – corruption, the national economy and education.
  2. Adhere to the personality traits preferred by global respondents in judging leaders, revealed by the new research and illustrated below.
  3. Learn lessons from business leaders about the most important characteristics of effective leaders. This year – and every year over the past five – business leaders have led the field; in 2016 they outperform political leaders by an average of eight percentage points.
  4. Look closely at the “more feminine” leadership archetype, regardless of the leader’s gender. Although the world continues to look more to male leaders to steer it through difficult times (61 percent to 39 percent looking to female leaders), female leaders in 2016 continue to outperform male counterparts on a majority of the attributes seen as most important to effective leadership, including all of the top three. In 2016, those characteristics that female leaders “best demonstrate” are leading by example, communicating in an open and transparent way, and admitting mistakes.
  5. Note the rise of the “title-less leader” and the death of the hierarchical leader – 38 percent of study respondents believe that leadership should come mostly from “the company/organization overall and everyone within it”, compared with 29 percent for the CEO and 17 percent for senior management.

Further reading
Based on conversations with more than 25,000 consumers globally over five years, Ketchum has produced a Five-Year Worldview, drawing together five key questions and five practical lessons for professional communicators and the leaders they advise to consider:

final_ketchum_klcm_5-year_trends_final copy

What do you make of these findings? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Found this article useful? Why not share it on.

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 30 June 2016.

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  1. Sam says:

    Really helpful and interesting summary. Thanks Rachel. Great to see “leading by example” and “speaking in every day language” at the top of the lists of leadership attributes people crave.

  2. Thanks for your comment Sam, I’m glad you enjoyed it. They both seem like obvious traits, but are often missing!

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