Newly released research from global comms firm WE Communications (WE) reveals a dramatic shift in executive leadership behavior, prompted by the global pandemic and ongoing moments of social upheaval. Citing a year of profound disruption, 86 percent of brand leaders surveyed say they’ve become more introspective. Seventy one percent say articulating personal core values and elevating their voice is more important than it was a year ago.
The firm’s new Brands in Motion study, Rethinking the Purpose and Meaning of Leadership, finds more than half of leaders saying they have deepened their awareness of personal fears, limitations, defenses and impulses, and are working to identify gaps between their intentions and actions—introspection that has driven executives to identify new ways to lead their businesses in how they show up and impact the world around them.
Attributes, behaviors and “how-tos” that have emerged as leaders navigate new waters:
“Our world changed overnight and disrupted every organization and industry worldwide,” said Melissa Waggener Zorkin, WE Communications global CEO and founder, in a news release. “Our research shows that our collective pandemic experience, along with other recent social upheaval, forever changed how business leaders create impact and communicate with stakeholders. Navigating in this transformed world requires a new level of introspection and vulnerability.”
New behaviors include tuning in and acting on employee concerns and aspirations, as well as engaging a wider than ever community of stakeholders:
- 89 percent say engaging with issues that affect their employees is a moral obligation.
- 78 percent believe they must lead with greater empathy.
- 74 percent say stakeholder collaboration is more important than it was a year ago, with 71 percent saying a top focus is more learning and engagement with women, Black and Indigenous people, and People of Color in employee and community settings.
“As leaders come to terms with their own human vulnerability, they are becoming more open to the vulnerability of others. They’re more willing to acknowledge and address the gaps in their own experience by broadening the world of people they engage with and listen to,” says the report. “According to our survey, 78 percent of leaders believe that leading with empathy is more important than it was a year ago, and 74 percent are more committed to working collaboratively.”
“This more connected and human approach is accompanied by a growing awareness that purpose is critical, and alignment between personal beliefs and company brand and values is foundational to successful leadership,” the report continues. “According to our research, 89 percent of respondents say customer demands that brands have a positive impact on society will continue to grow. 71 percent believe that to meet these demands, it has become more important in the past year to define and articulate their own core beliefs and elevate their own voices.”
Leaders report that a broader circle of influences are playing a more significant role in their thinking than ever before:
“Leaders have learned they must embrace new behaviors to meet the new expectations of the employees they depend on and the communities and customers they serve,” said Noah Keteyian, senior vice president, Corporate Reputation & Brand Purpose, in the release. “It all starts with listening—to themselves and their stakeholders—with a new vulnerability that opens up more opportunity for dialogue, understanding and positive action. If there is one critical motto for business leaders to achieve success in 2021, it is this: ‘Tell me more.’”
WE partnered with YouGov to field a Brands in Motion study, “Rethinking the Purpose and Meaning of Leadership.” The research surveyed more than 300 C-suite executives, senior-level managers and key decision-makers in the United States, the UK and Singapore.