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Geoffrey Rowan is a partner and managing director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada.
Geoffrey Rowan is a partner and managing director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Male leaders can't be afraid to admit their mistakes Add to ...

When Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak dismissed entirely criticism by economists that he erred in his math to come up with his one-million jobs calculation, he was exhibiting a characteristic associated with male leaders, and ineffective leaders, according to the third annual Ketchum Leadership Communications Monitor.

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By a margin of nearly three to one (73 per cent to 27 per cent) Canadians said female leaders are more likely to admit their mistakes than men, and they said willingness to admit mistakes is one of the most important characteristics of effective leadership.

In Canada, the 2014 KLCM found that women leaders are seen as outperforming men on each of the top attributes identified as most critical to effective leadership – in most cases by a wide margin.

But no one should take much heart in that because overall the Canadian and global view of leadership is dismal. People around the world want leaders who say what they will do and do what they say, who are accessible and honest, and who aren’t obsessed with being right no matter the evidence to the contrary. Instead, they view their leaders as vague, evasive, arrogant and motivated by self-interest. In country after country, people are disaffected and unimpressed with leaders from all sectors.

Canadians were the least likely in 13 countries surveyed to say their leaders (business, political, community, union and not-for-profit) are effective – 18 per cent compared to just 22 per cent globally. Nor do we hold much hope for the future. Only 11 per cent of Canadian respondents said they are confident their leaders will be effective over the next 12 months, compared to 17 per cent of the global survey sample. The bar is pretty low.

Cynicism, distrust and resignation have been the hallmarks of the KLCM findings year after year. But in the 2014 survey, there is some hope that there is a path toward better leadership. While the survey asked respondents to associate desirable leadership traits with female and male leaders, the traits are not inherently masculine or feminine. Any leader can adopt them.

The research indicates the show-no-weakness, admit-no-errors, strong-and-silent leadership style is on its death bed. Uni-directional command-and-control leadership communication has given way to leadership that integrates good communication, transparency, collaboration, genuine dialogue, clear values and the alignment of words and deeds. Spin does not work.

The KLCM asked respondents in 13 countries to rank the most important attributes of effective leadership, and to say whether they associate those attributes with male or female leaders. Globally, and in Canada, women leaders dominated the categories ranked most important.

The top Canadian rankings looked like this:

1. Leading by example: 61 per cent women, 39 per cent men.

2. Willingness to admit mistakes: 73 per cent women, 27 per cent men.

3. Communicating in an open and transparent way: 68 per cent women, 32 per cent men.

4. Aligning what they say with what they and the organization does: 55 per cent women, 45 per cent men.

5. Bringing out the best in others: 66 per cent women, 34 per cent men.

But it wasn’t until the attribute that Canadians ranked sixth in importance – handling controversial issues confidently and calmly – that male leaders were perceived as more effective than women by a small margin, 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

But next on the list – making tough decisions – 65 per cent rated male leaders more effective to only 35 per cent for female leaders.

Curiously, despite dominating in the top-ranked categories for effective leaders, when asked whether male leaders or female leaders are most likely to lead us through challenging and rapidly changing times over the next five years, both the global and Canadian sample pointed to men – by a 54 to 46-per-cent margin globally and 52 to 48-per-cent margin among Canadian respondents.

East Asian and South Asian countries in the survey skewed heavily toward male leaders, in the 70 to 80 per cent range, followed by the United Arab Emirates at 63 per cent, and the U.K. at 60 per cent. But a majority of South African, Brazilian and German respondents pointed to women leaders as most likely to guide those countries into the future.

Overall, the research found that open, transparent communication is the single most important attribute, with 74 per cent rating it as very important to great leadership. But only 29 per cent said leaders communicate well – a huge gap between expectation and delivery.

Leaders who think they have more important things to worry about, especially business leaders, would do well to consider the consequences of disappointment in their leadership performance. Across the board, 50 per cent of respondents said they bought less of a company’s products, and 45 per cent said they boycotted a company completely, because of the company’s leadership.

Dissatisfied people speak with their dollars, and their votes, if they aren’t so dissatisfied that they don’t bother to vote at all.

Geoffrey Rowan (@KetchumCanadaPR) is a partner and managing director of Ketchum Public Relations Canada.

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