Responsive and Responsible Leadership:A Media Trainer’s Point of View
By MelodyKimmel, Senior Vice President Media Training, MSLGROUP
As a media and presentations trainer with two decades of experience, the theme of “responsive
and responsible leadership” at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos got me thinking
about how leaders need to convey these important characteristics in their communications.
Both are vital attributes the world needs and wants to see in a leader. Verbal and non-verbal
cues are paramount to confirming a leader has what it takes.
It rests on trust. According to the World Economic Forum’s Trust and Performance Equation
Project, trust drives 22 to 44 percent of overall customer loyalty. Loyalty is linked to company
performance that is twice as likely to exceed financial analyst forecasts. Ten years of Fortune’s
100 Best Places to Work reports have found a correlation between higher employee trust scores
and business profits. The values we espouse, the causes we support and the way we
communicate about all of this affects brand perceptions, employee engagement and consumer
So how does a leader look and sound “responsive and responsible” when the cameras start to
Let’s start with responsiveness.
How should you act “in the moment” when your company has the opportunity to step in and step
up to respond to an important world or community need?
It’s not easy, especially in determining how much of the spotlight you want. Overdo it and you
run the risk of undermining the action’s impact by appearing to brag. Underdo it and you’re a
tree falling unheard in the forest. It’s often a matter of personal style, but for most leaders, the
right answer is shaped by keeping the spotlight fixed squarely on those in need.
Sincerity. Humility. A demeanor clearly other-centered. People around the world respond to the
interpersonal and emotional cues. This kind of responsive communication is not like
communicating standard corporate news, it’s about people. Your concern for other human
beings should shine through. While you need to connect your actions to your overall purpose,
don’t get bogged down in corporate language. Straight-forward people language is what’s
Don’t let your worries about getting this right prevent you from communicating with confidence.
In general, communicating advances not only your company’s reputation but your cause. It sets
the bar higher, challenging and engaging others. It also helps to establish a new normal. If you
quit smoking, a close friend who also smokes is 43% likelier to quit, too, according to health
studies. Suddenly, that’s what “we” don’t do.
So let your responsiveness spark others to follow suit. Offer, ask and encourage. And, when
you can, show your willingness to put the business boundaries aside for the greater need at
hand. It’s time to collaborate with others, even your competitors.
What about responsibility?
Boosting a good cause raises public opinion of an organization and strengthens employee and
customer loyalty, helping the organization “Do well by doing good.”
That doesn’t mean that executives need just to espouse a particular cause to embody their
organization’s commitment to social responsibility. As Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum
founder and executive chairman has said, “leadership means taking responsibility. It requires
courage and commitment to listen and honestly explain the breadth and complexity of issues, to
proactively generate solutions and to take action based on core values.” So, how do you go
Stand with others. Of course, your work and what you share about it to the public has more
credibility when it comes with a third-party endorsement. So pick your partners wisely – ones
you are proud to stand next to and share the spotlight.
Keep the focus on others. As BP’s Deepwater Horizon crisis gushed unchecked, the
company’s efforts to cap the well and communicate its regrets were undermined by none other
than the CEO. “Nobody wants this thing over more than I do,” said Tony Hayward. “I’d like my
life back.” Always remember, who are your stakeholders? Where do they feel pain? How do we
address it? Talk to them. All of them.
Keep your comments lean. Bolster your messages with verifiable facts. Hyperbole is the
enemy of humility as well as honesty. “First” is provable. “Best” …not so much.
Anticipate questions. Prepare for the gamut. Try delivering a description of your initiative in
under 15 seconds, then prepare for the questions you dread. FAQ documents may be a good
study aid, but be sure the spokesperson practices out loud.
Answer the question. Leave the pivots for the politicians. Don’t lie. Don’t guess. When your
organization has fallen short on responsibility, acknowledge that and explain how you’re
committed to doing better. That doesn’t mean tell all. Explain why you can’t give full details
(competition, employee confidentiality, pending litigation…), then convey a related message that
helps the readers/listeners understand the company’s position or policy.
Responsive and responsible leadership requires both sides of the brain. It means an executive
must not only be prepared logically with the intelligent answers and solutions. It also means
properly understanding and navigating the emotional landscape.
About Melody Kimmel
Melody Kimmel leads the media training program for MSLGROUP, which she joined in 2016.
Among the nation’s most experienced media trainers, she custom-designs and implements
media, presentation and other types of message training programs for clients across such
diverse industries as healthcare, financial services, energy, manufacturing, agribusiness, tech,
consumer goods and beauty. More information about Melody and the MSLGROUP program
can be found at: www.mediatraining.mslgroup.com.