A survey of nearly 4,000 respondents across 12 countries looking at how communications and effective leadership are related found that only 23 percent of all respondents feel the insurance industry demonstrates effective leadership.

Conducted by Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Ipsos, an independent market research company, the Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor survey also found that leaders from business, political and religious life are falling “desperately short” of expectations around the world—with Europeans and Americans the most disillusioned.

Further, from a global perspective, more people believe leadership will actually get worse in 2012 (31 percent), compared with those anticipating better leadership (27 percent). Perhaps most concerning, the report found a 28-percentage-point gap between expectations of leaders across business, political and religious sectors and their delivery against those expectations.

According to the survey’s results on business leadership and communications, approximately 40 percent of business-based decisions—such as a willingness to invest in the company, to buy its products or to recommend working there—are based on a business leader’s ability to effectively communicate.

However, leaders don’t seem to recognize (or focus on) the direct link between effective communications and their bottom line. According to the study, globally, only 37 percent of leaders are rated as effective communicators, noted the report.

Within the business community, knowledge-based industries were perceived as having the most effective bosses. The technology sector ranked highest on leadership effectiveness, with a 44 percent approval rating, followed by media (39 percent) and telecommunications (36 percent). Banking chiefs came in fourth overall in the poll worldwide with 32 percent. The energy sector and financial services (insurance) leaders were ranked fifth (31 percent) and sixth (30 percent) respectively. Consumer business leaders lagged far behind on leadership, with consumer packaged goods placed lowest at 20 percent.

The results create a roadmap for leaders to improve, as respondents ranked clear, transparent communications as top leadership behaviors. For 84 percent, effective communication is extremely important to strong leadership, while 48 percent rated it as the number one factor. However, action matters, as tough decision-making, leading by example and calm crisis-handling followed closely behind.

In an in-depth analysis of the results, Ketchum asserts that leadership credibility requires a combination of decisive action and honest, transparent communication—most effectively achieved through a leader’s personal presence and involvement.

“Our study reveals the full extent of the world’s disappointment with its leaders across every category of human endeavor,” said Rod Cartwright, director of Ketchum’s Global Corporate Practice. “But the research is also rich with practical insights—a clear blueprint for more effective leadership and leadership communication. What is clear is that effective leadership and effective communication are inextricably linked.”

If the world is disappointed in leaders across every segment, insurers may take solace in the following perspective: Business leaders—including those in the insurance industry—were ranked above politicians, not-for-profit bosses and even religious leaders as “most effective” over the past year. More than a third of respondents said they were more confident in business leaders than a year ago, with 36 percent viewing business as providing effective leadership (receiving an “excellent” rating of 8 or above on a scale of 0-10) and 48 percent seeing them as effective communicators.

This compared with just 25 percent of politicians and religious leaders, who achieved the same “excellent” rating. Although expectations of politicians to provide effective leadership in difficult times were higher than any other group (63 percent), they suffered the lowest vote of confidence, with 47 percent expecting worse political leadership in 2012.

Trustworthiness was seen as the number one source of leadership credibility for corporations, placed above quality of management and financial strength. In order to win that trust, the report found that the personal “presence” and involvement of a leader in communicating was vital. As a result, communication via face-to-face and traditional media left social media trailing.

Cartwright said: “It is clear that mainstream media still carries a great deal of credibility. When it comes to digital and social media, the message is that most people don’t believe that the leader is actually involved. This doesn’t mean we should conclude that these channels are redundant as a vehicle for establishing credible leadership. Rather, it underlines the absolute imperative of making the ‘presence’ of the leader shine through.”

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