Casting an eye back over a hugely uncertain and unpredictable 2011, one thing really stood out – a fundamental questioning of leaders and leadership, be it in the realm of politics, business or religion. After all, 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Spain’s Indignados, the London riots, unrest in Greece and marchers on the streets of Moscow.
The extent to which the past 12 months was characterised by a never-ending shower of gauntlets thrown down to our leaders was wonderfully crystalised in Time Magazine’s eye-catching decision to make ‘the Protestor’ its person of the year. Regardless of what view you take of the grievances of the 99%, the logic of that decision is that the 1% have a fair bit to think about in terms of their leadership and, crucially, how it’s communicated.
And if 2011 was the year of living uncertainly, 2012 may well be even worse. Volatility is the new normal and the unambiguous message is that we need credible, inspirational leaders more than ever who can restore our faith in tottering institutions. Crucially, the cornerstone of that quality leadership isn’t just charisma, ruthless decision-making or even selflessness, important though they may be. It’s communication – increasingly an absolutely critical leadership skill in an uncertain world.
Why, you might well ask? Well, it’s a simple truism, especially in difficult and dynamic times, that the higher up the leadership ranks you climb, the more your effectiveness depends on excellent communication. Whether you’re trying to reassure investors, win voters, inspire employees or differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you can’t do it in a vacuum. Voltaire said “with great power comes great responsibility.” Today that responsibility is to help people understand where you want to lead them and why – setting a course, inspiring your team, energising your organization and running through walls to get there.
“Fairness will be the watchword for 2012,” Louis Susman, US ambassador to the UK recently told a gathering at the Financial Times. In today’s climate of cynicism and pessimism, no institution or leader will be immune to that fairness test. To fairness, I would also naturally add the now ever-green expectations of vision, openness, transparency, accountability, authenticity and a willingness genuinely to listen as the minimum standard of behaviour for today’s leaders. But it is effective communication that must act as the glue that binds these together.
2012 Leadership Milestones – The Chance for Leaders to Shine
2012 will be full of opportunities for leaders shine. For example, there will be enormous tests of political leadership through elections or transitions of political power around the world – from the US, Russia, France and China, to Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico and Venezuela. And there will be multiple high-profile platforms around the world for leaders of all stripes to show their mettle, including:
- The Arab League Summit in March
- The Summit of the Americas in Columbia in April
- Chicago’s G8 Summit in May
- The Rio +20 UN conference on sustainability in June
- The London 2012 Olympics in July and August
- The UN General Assembly in September
- The World Bank/IMF annual meeting in October
- The BRICS summit in December rounding the year off
It is an absolute certainty that clear, authentic, consistent and compelling communication will be THE determinant of leadership success this year and for a long time to come. Leaders can no longer opt out. But will our leaders get it (and incidentally, do we as leaders get it right more often than not)? I know what I hope the answer will be to both questions. For now, watch this space for more on the umbilical link between effective leadership and effective communications.