AB Thinks  →  20th March 2016

Wanted: a new type of leader

So, we know the answer to one big question – which way will Britain vote? But we must wait for the answers to many others.

Business dislikes uncertainty. It gives solid reasons – and poor excuses – to prevaricate. As communicators, we can expect projects to be put on hold while our organisations grapple with the enormity of what they don’t yet know.

This leaves us time to consider why, according to Michael Gove, ‰“the country is sick of experts‰”. It was opinion not facts that stole the show during the referendum campaign. Some commentators blame a wider reactionary movement openly hostile to the establishment, political elite and so-called ‘intelligentsia‰’.

This, they say, also explains the popularity of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. While some may stare open-mouthed at what they feel is casual racism and blatant bigotry, others view them as refreshingly authentic. Unlike politicians past and present, they say what they mean and mean what they say. They are not perfectly polished. They do not dodge awkward questions. They speak from the heart, or perhaps the gut, and as a result, an air of honesty masks any lack of knowledge.

Here‰’s where our profession may be partly to blame. As communication advisers, have we polished our leaders to the point of slipperiness? Have we taught them too well? Perhaps there is such a thing as too much media training and image management. The unintended consequence may be leaders discouraged from being themselves, suppressing genuine personality traits and human emotion.

During the live TV debate, I was desperate for David Cameron to turn directly to the camera and say what he was really thinking. This could have been messy and even emotional, but some heartfelt honesty might have resonated more with voters than the party line. Instead he stuck to the script; he stayed on message. Ironically, we did witness a moment of raw emotion, but by then it was too late.

Out of the uncertainty and disunity of this referendum, let’s hope new leaders emerge – men and women with wit and wisdom, who get us thinking and feeling.

As communicators, let’s give these people the courage and confidence to be themselves. Let’s remind them that clever ideas, smart thinking and consistent language are rarely enough. As audiences, we need to feel a visceral connection to the words, to capture our hearts as well as our minds.