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The rules of good leadership are changing.  What does this look like in reality and how should communicators be reacting to this change?


The role of the CEO is changing. Increasingly, organisational leaders have to negotiate with expectations that are in a constant state of flux. Modern CEOs need to navigate a variety of challenging roles – they need to be team builders, individual coaches, set strategies, and embrace innovation and creativity.

Traditionally, CEOs are more likely to have a strong background in finance, rather than a profession based on people leadership. This tendency stems from the fact that leaders with a financial background are better equipped to speak the language of business, and thus communicate well with the board and shareholders.

However, a survey in 2013 by Time-Effective, which questioned 600 business leaders about the skills and strategies they felt are their weakest and strongest, found that financial management and marketing are the areas in which leaders feel they are most lacking skills and expertise.   On the other end of the spectrum, almost half of those surveyed claimed that people management was where their strengths lie.

Another recent report from the Mullwood Partnership affirms this, finding that more than 40 per cent of CEOs rate people leadership as the most important aspect of their role.

The research suggests that today’s top leadership is no longer comprised solely of business sense and finance knowledge – they are equipped with people skills, the skills to build the best team possible, and the ability to embrace creativity and innovation.


What does this mean for people in IC?

For people working in communications roles, this is a great opportunity as a profession and as individuals to raise our profile and be recognised for the work that we do.  This newer breed of CEO are likely to be communications-savvy with effective communications part of their management credo. Getting senior management buy-in is vitally important for any project but it is especially important in an employee communications context and if you’re lucky enough to work for one of these leaders, gaining buy-in should be easy. 

Unfortunately, until everyone catches up with this trend, there will be many who think communications is still a soft skill, adding little value. At the end of this extreme will be leaders who believe it gets in the way of their day job, using up valuable business time which could be better spent, in their opinion, undertaking more worthwhile activities. Whether misguided and wrong, this is a common reality.

So what do you have to do to convert the non-believers and avoid being left behind in this revolution?  It goes without saying that, as with any function, you need to continually demonstrate the value communications brings.  If leaders can see value then they will soon shift to become advocates.   It is up to us to make the business case… and here are three simple tips to help do this:


1. Know your leader intimately

Get to really know the leader in question. What makes them tick? Behaviourally, what is within their comfort zone and what is outside it? Getting an early and solid understanding of what they want from you and communications is important. Ultimately, a communicator’s, or communications function’s success will be built on the relationship and partnership they build with leaders. These relationships can be very long term, with leaders often taking their communications gurus with them into new roles.  Furthermore, knowing their views on the marketplace, business and process issues will help with mastering the art of putting yourself in their head. This will help with writing communications on their behalf. Mastering their style, tone and predicting their take on issues will save countless redrafts. The ability to capture the authentic ‘voice’ of leaders is absolutely critical and marks out the best communicators.


2.  Not just saying ‘Yes’

Communicators occupy a special position because they often sit outside the normal management chain. This gives a freedom not afforded to other executives. Capturing that position and interrelationship is the prize for all professional communicators.  While you need to ensure your communications approach aligns with their expectations and prejudices, you cannot take this approach too far.  Good leaders need good advisers – people who are not afraid to challenge, question and push the points that a leader has not thought of or is initially uncomfortable with. Understanding why a leader has concerns about a course of action will help you to build an intellectual argument and emotional response to move a leader to the right decision. 


3.  Be visible

The subtle visibility of tangible achievements is vital to build sustained leadership support. Seeing examples will provide the rationale as to why the function, and you as an individual, are there.  Don’t operate in a vacuum, remote from senior management, working on the premise that silence from on high means consent.  Put in place the hard measurement techniques that help link evidence of employee understanding and support for the organisation’s priorities to business performance.  This is gold dust and will be viewed in the same light as sales and cash flow.  And where possible, use numbers and speak the language of ROI and KPIs.


Final say

Communications is vital. In today’s world, no CEO can afford to be lost for words.  Our credibility depends on being able to manage the expectations of our leadership community. There is a need like never before for business leaders to communicate smoothly across multiple media channels and interact internally with transparency and clarity.  The role of the CEO has become much more about collaboration and if you’re in communications, this can only be a good thing.



Nick Barnes is a specialist in measuring people engagement, with more than 10 years agency experience supporting some of the world’s best known and most complex organisations, including HSBC, BP, Travelocity and BAA.  Nick has extensive experience working in and in close partnership with HR and Corporate Communications, in the areas of measurement , strategy creation and brand,.  Nick spent 11 years in London before moving to Australia in 2012 to establish Coral Communications.  Nick believes strongly in partnering with people to develop and deliver complimentary and sustainable communications and measurement strategies.


Helping people in business thrive! 

At Coral, we partner with people; likeminded professionals who are passionate about creating an environment where people can thrive.  We help connect a business with its people.  How do we do this?  By restoring the balance to your communications processes; activating brands in the hearts and minds of people; holding the mirror on what matters most; and releasing creativity by navigating the path to innovation.