By Samuel Greengard
Countless words have been written and uttered about corporate leadership. Universities devote entire MBA programs to the topic and conferences dissect virtually every aspect of how to become a better leader.
Nevertheless, leadership is often MIA in business and IT. A recent study conducted by the public relations firm Ketchum found that only 22 percent of 6,509 respondents in 13 countries believe that today’s leaders demonstrate effective leadership. Moreover, there’s a 14 percent gap between expectations and delivery, and only 17 percent expect any type of improvement in 2014.
But wait, there’s more. Only about four in 10 respondents believe that business leaders meet expectations and a mere 35 percent say they are effective communicators. The fallout? Customers financially punish companies that lack leadership. The Ketchum study found that 61 percent boycotted or bought less from firms that were perceived to be deficient. Conversely, 52 percent began buying or increased purchases due to the belief that a company demonstrated strong leadership.
It’s easy to brush off these findings, but the study has a couple of interesting points and subplots. First, low levels of consumer trust do not lead to loyalty and brand stickiness. However, companies that demonstrate strong leadership are poised to benefit. Among other things, this means leading by example, engaging in transparent communication and admitting mistakes. It means speaking through actions, not just words. Social media and the Internet offer an excellent BS detector—though not all executives have caught onto this fact.
Second, leadership today is more than a command-and-control thing. Increasingly, there’s a need for a more sensitive approach. It’s also about embracing diversity in order to bring a much broader range of thinking and attitudes into the business—and sync with rapidly changing societal attitudes. This includes different racial and sexual orientations, as well as groups tuned into social justice and environmental issues.
CIOs can play a key role in all of this. Although digital technology serves up a heaping dose of challenges, it also provides the tools to address obstacles. IT systems cannot be designed around features, functions and capabilities. They must place a strategic framework of values and value into motion. According to Ketchum, three factors are critical for building corporate credibility and a perception of strong leadership: trustworthiness, quality and customer service.
The upshot? Connect IT systems to a clear business strategy or face a big, painful leadership disconnect.
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight blog post, “Think Like a Venture Capitalist!”, click here.