Taking The Lead: The New Opportunities for Bold, Purposeful Leadership
The many upheavals of 2020 have consumers, stakeholders, and employees yearning for bolder, more purpose-driven leadership from brands. Weber Shandwick Australia EVP Megan Rosier outlines how leaders can better connect in the new landscape.
Trust in brands, businesses, and leaders is eroding. It has been for some time. Demands for transparency grow louder by the day. From consumers, stakeholders, and employees. Across the entirety of business infrastructure, there are rising demands for transparency on environmental issues, on sustainability, on matters of structural inequality, and more.
Research from Weber Shandwick has consistently reinforced the trend’s prevalence, over the years. From the rising prominence of consumer and employee activism among younger generations to the ever-increasing popularity of CEO activism. Consistently, research underscores the existence of a global desire – need, even – for purposeful leadership.
Against the backdrop of 2020’s myriad array of challenges, that desire has only grown stronger. From bushfires to floods to pandemics to protests to politics, 2020 has thrown (and continues to throw) a seemingly endless cavalcade of stressors and anxieties at every demographic and population around the world – and, in such straits, we all crave leadership.
We crave leaders with purpose. Leaders who take strong stances on important issues. Leaders who act with honesty and transparency – who prioritise solutions and community over the profits and promotion of their own brands and businesses. And, we’ve seen some, over the months of 2020. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. Fundraising comedian Celeste Barber.
However, very few brands or business leaders have felt comfortable or confident enough to take the same bold steps – preferring to support those who step forward rather than immediately assume the risk of leadership in such a volatile and unpredictable time. Which is understandable. But, may represent a missed opportunity. And, increasingly, a risk of its own.
Many of us are still tempted by the idea of a return to pre-2020 norms. But, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that such norms will not be re-appearing in any near future. Our world simply will not permit it. And, as communicators, it’s incumbent upon us to strive for new, effective, and responsible ways to communicate and foster connection.
With more purpose-driven leadership, we are provided a pathway and tactic with proven appeal and, as of this moment, few adoptees. Those communicators, businesses, and leaders bold enough to act with explicit purpose and compassion will have a distinct advantage over their competitors. And, those that don’t may find themselves soon rejected by their stakeholders.
But – how to do it?
Step 1 – Reflect
There are risks to purpose-driven leadership. One of the most effective ways to mitigate them is to ensure appropriate reflection before action.
- Moving forward, what matters to your people, your customers, and your wider community?
- Does your company’s vision and mission align with those priorities?
- Do your brand’s values need to evolve in any way?
- Do these priorities challenge your leadership’s personal values or passions at all?
By reflecting, you ensure your brand will be taking actions that are authentic to its reputation, values, and leadership. In determining these values, the humanity of your leaders and the brands they represent must be central. Inauthenticity is toxic.
Step 2 – Act With Consistency
With a focused brand purpose and aligned values, the next stage is to ensure that each action undertaken (by both leadership and company) showcases those values.
This is a stage that requires sensitivity. In this era of all eras, nobody is immune to stress, doubt, fear, and uncertainty – including business leaders. As communicators and colleagues, we must provide support in their showcasing of their humanity and vulnerability.
To truly embrace a purpose-driven approach to leadership communications, leaders must embrace what connects their lives and those of their audiences and be prepared to more actively wear their heart on their sleeve.
To ensure the greatest strategic support and success for leaders and their companies, all communications and engagement (internal and external) should be guided by five key principles:
Step 3 – Embrace the New World
For some, overt displays of compassion and flexibility on behalf of companies and their leaders may seem like a reputational risk. But, as our research has shown, it is very much the pathway being undertaken by our most celebrated leaders and the pathway preferred by their audiences.
Embracing purpose does not equate to a loss of drive, focus, or impact. Quite the opposite. When any given week could bring new upheavals, a values-driven approach allows leaders and companies to adapt and evolve to better respond to the needs of their community and deliver greater results.
With aligned values and responsive strategies, leaders and brands can build stronger relationships with their employees, consumers, and stakeholders. Beyond services and products, such actions can deliver inspiration, education, and strength to communities when they need it most.
The benefits of such powerful relationships are manifold, well-documented, and long-lasting. (Not least of them being; your company will not be left behind by generations increasingly devoted to transparency, purpose, and shared value.)
It won’t be easy. To even reflect on a company’s values and the values of its leadership is a difficult and confronting process. But, by embracing purpose-driven leadership and taking a stand, your business can help everyone around it to thrive and build a more stable, supportive world.