Does the PR profession care about improving its leadership?

I’m not asking that question.

Truth be told, I’m asking it on behalf of Dr. Bruce Berger, professor emeritus, advertising & public relations at The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. And his question comes in the wake of Plank’s rather sad, and quite sobering, Report Card on PR Leaders.

Before I continue, please note that, of the more than 800 respondents surveyed, 35 percent were top leaders while the remaining 65 percent were personnel at one, two or three levels below the power brokers.

The report, co-sponsored by Heyman Associates, reveals a gap between leaders and their direct reports that makes The Grand Canyon seem like a pothole in comparison.

To wit:

– Leaders gave themselves a grade of A-minus in five fundamental areas of leadership: organizational culture, leadership performance, organizational trust, work engagement and job satisfaction.

– Direct reports, however, gave their leaders a highly mediocre grade of C-plus!

Holy chasm, Batman!

This is the third such study from Plank that reveals a disturbingly growing trend that has yet to be explored by our industry press or associations.  In fact, the gaps between how leadership and those that report to them have only expanded with each subsequent report.

Rather than hazard a guess as to the why, I went directly to the source, Dr. Berger. Here’s what he said:

“The size of the gap is striking and concerning. It suggests some real issues in organizations such as a continued lack of two-way communication, limited decision-making power, diversity concerns and, according to females in the survey, organizational cultures that are less supportive of them than men.”

Bill Heyman went on to say, “In some organizations, the culture itself may present barriers to significant change. Or perhaps some of those who have the power to effect change may be the problem. Other leaders may simply not want to let go of their decision-making power. Still other PR leaders might have egos that reduce the voices of others or resist a willingness to listen to them or effect personal changes.

“Or (and this is critical in this blogger’s mind) perhaps the profession itself doesn’t actually believe their leaders have such issues, or don’t want to believe it.”

Heyman’s comment stuck me as spot-on since we find ourselves in the midst of an absolute blizzard of self-aggrandizing awards nowadays.

Where does one start? “30 Under 30”? “40 under 40”?Purposeful Persons”? “50 Most Powerful”? “50 Most Influential”? “50 Most Omniscient”?

Or how about the sudden proliferation of halls of fame? It seems like there’s a new variation on the theme being announced by a media property nearly every week.

Mind the gap

So how can we laud our profession’s leaders on the one hand while The Plank Center Report continually reinforces that there’s something very rotten in Denmark?

Before I cease and desist, I must share one other troubling finding: nearly half of the respondents said they do not belong to a single professional association. Berger and Heyman believe the reasons why include “… a growing disenchantment with some of the big associations (more words and flash vs. substance) AND employers not paying for membership.”

That is a HUGE concern in my opinion.

How can tomorrow’s leaders expand their universe of knowledge in our profession if their interest in joining professional associations is either on the wane or prevented?

It would seem to me that, while the trade media continue to wax poetic about our amazing profession and hand out more awards than New Jersey State Troopers do speeding tickets, Rome is burning.

The big question is this: What will it take for our trade journalists and association presidents to take these findings seriously and start offering insights and education that will change the direction of a very dangerous course we are on?

Let’s put the self-congratulatory awards on temporary hold and figure out what’s broken before it’s too late.

                                        ###

3 thoughts on “Does the PR profession care about improving its leadership?

  1. A classic case of “the shoemaker’s children going without shoes” i

    It seems that today’s leaders in the industry have forgotten ( with few exceptions) what is like to be just starting out. Our current grad students and recent alums report this back to me all the time..
    Not a hard thing to fix- just treat your employees/firms like a client- without billing them 🙂
    News about not supporting professional development also chilling for both the industry and the associations that are supposed to be “advancing the profession” 🙁

  2. I could not agree more. One only need to see the fire burning in Washington DC as emblematic of the problem. Servant leadership is just a platitude. There seems to be an over population of self aggrandizement. I just hope and trust that we will all come to our senses and get back to advising the C suite on behaviors that benefit society and help promote a healthy populace and productive citizenry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.