Superman is dead

The world is going through tough times; from behind our touch screens we’re watching the death of the hero leader. The Superman, the head of the pack, the strongest link – dying. Disillusioned with current leaders, the world is looking towards honesty, vision and communication skills to turn problems into opportunities. 

At least that’s what Rod Cartwright, global partner and director of Ketchum, concluded during a presentation at the CIPR’s National Public Relations Show on November 26. The findings were based on a leadership research report recently produced based on data from twelve countries.

By Charlie Stroe

Leadership and communication
R.I.P. Superman 
The aim of the research, performed in 2012 and again in 2013, was to find out how people assess leaders and their communication skills. It also focused on ranking key leadership attributes and – since we’re talking about PR pros - identifying the role communication plays in leadership.

Disillusioned and depressed
To guess what Ketchum found, all you have to do is look into your heart. Maybe. The level of disillusion with current leaders might be higher than you think. The gap between reality and people’s expectations when it comes to leaders is overwhelming. In fact, less than one in four people (24 percent) think today’s leaders are effective, mostly due to a gap between what leaders say and what they do.

Surprisingly, this insight is important not only for political leaders, but also for businesses. It would seem that 60 percent of people have boycotted or bought less from a company as a result of a negative perception of the company’s leadership. On the other hand, only 40 percent of people bought more because of a positive leadership image.

Or are we?
Fortunately, the study doesn’t let us dwell too much on how disillusioned we are with our leaders. instead, it asks what to do in order to live up to expectations.

So what do we want from our leaders? According to the research, it’s honesty, vision, problem solving and collaboration.

Similarly to leaders, there’s been a recent shift in the way businesses are perceived by their audiences. In light of the recent recession, the customer has become more demanding than ever; excellent product or service quality have to be supported by outstanding customer service, offered by a trustworthy company. No pressure, right?

Where does PR come in?
As communication experts *cough cough*, it’s the duty of PR specialists to help organisational leaders fulfil these growing expectations. Here are a few pointers for doing just that.

As you probably guessed, the first thing is to minimise the say-do gap. Leaders need to be masters of open, transparent communication. This goes hand in hand with leading by example and excellent crisis handling. In fact, transforming today’s problems into tomorrow’s opportunities and having a long-term vision are two essential attributes of today’s ideal leader.

Help your leader find an authentic voice. Identify what works for your leader and adapt all communication to it. It’s essential to keep this congruence of tone throughout all channels. Think of Barack Obama, who, throughout his campaign, managed to look authentic and consistent across all media channels.

Similarly, in the case of a CEO blog, the only two ways to make it successful is either by letting a talented CEO express his personality and ideas freely, or – should your leader not be a talented writer - by finding an excellent ghost-writer, able to imitate his voice perfectly and get his ideas across.

Finally, going back to the initial point of this blog, kill Superman. The leader is no longer the head of the pack, he or she is a hub for the organisation and all the people in it. Communication skills are essential, because, although the leader is still expected to create a vision for the future, this should be done by consulting other people. Leadership decisions should be based on the good of the organisation or movement, not on the leader as an individual.

What do you think, should we kill the Superman leader? Or is it already a bit late to ask that question?

Image courtesy of digitalart on

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Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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