No good advice

How can leaders whose lived experience is so different from those they are appointed to lead ever be ‘in touch’ with what those people think and feel? The answer lies in the competence of the advisors they surround themselves with and the quality of the advice those advisors dispense. The equation is simple to understand. No good advice = poor leadership.

According to a recent YouGov opinion poll two thirds of Britons believe the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is out of touch with ordinary people because of his wealth. Apparently, Sunak and his wife are worth an estimated £730 million, which is roughly twice that of King Charles’ estimated £370 million.

A question many have been asking is how can such a man appointed to ‘lead’ the people of Briton really understand the current financial war of attrition faced by millions of ordinary people?  His lived experience is light years away from that of a pensioner or single parent struggling to keep the lights on, stay warm and feed themselves, during the current cost of living crisis.

During the course of my career, I’ve often asked myself a similar question when supporting senior leaders in organisations, particularly the ones who weren’t particularly ‘in touch’ with the sentiments of their workforce and had no interest in finding out what employees were thinking either.  

In my experience, leaders who have and consistently demonstrate the traits of servant leadership – humility, trust, empathy, and who have a genuine interest in the people they lead and can listen properly to others and take advice have been the ones who have been the best to work with. And ultimately, the more successful.

In the last few days Sunak had a bit of a reality check from pensioner Catherine Poole, aged 77. Receiving a ‘photo op’ visit from Sunak whilst recovering in hospital, she bluntly told him that he wasn’t trying hard enough to sort out decent pay for nurses.

I suspect that for a leader like Sunak, such moments in his carefully staged managed existence, where he is personally confronted by the reality of what real people really think, are few and far between. Which is why having people around you who are able to competently advise on such matters is essential if you are to be an effective ‘in touch’ leader.  

Opinion polls are fine for providing a snapshot view of a situation, but they can never replicate the raw authenticity of an encounter with a pensioner with advice to share. In organisations, annual employee engagement surveys are also similar blunt instruments which can create the illusion for leadership teams that they really know what people in the organisation are thinking and feeling. I’ve been witness to many employee ‘Town Hall’ events that have been a rude awakening for leadership teams, who found out the hard way that they weren’t quite as ‘in touch’ as they thought they were.

For an ‘in touch’ leader such reality check moments should never happen, and this is ultimately dependent on the competence of the people they surround themselves with and the quality of the advice those people dispense.

In the internal communication profession we often debate our ability to ‘speak truth to power’. In other words, how we can honestly and transparently share the reality of how things are going in an organisation with senior leaders, and give advice about how they should communicate with workforces in response to that reality to be authentic and trusted.

Telling a senior leader the truth can be a daunting experience, but it is a responsibility that no internal communicator should shy away from if we are to be regarded as ethical practitioners and advisors.     

High profile ‘comms fails’ such as the mass sackings of P&O Ferries staff earlier this year by pre-recorded video message, demonstrate the risks of not seeking or taking advice from professional communicators and others if leadership teams are to avoid self-inflicted PR disasters.

The equation is simple to understand. No good advice = poor leadership.


Image by Sam Williams from Pixabay

2 thoughts on “No good advice

  1. Great timing as I am just considering how to have this very conversation. Reading this has given me the confidence to press ahead so thank you.


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