Lack of emphasis on great communication
CEO communication is a significant consideration for most business leaders, with many Chief Executives placing heavy emphasis on interpersonal communication, both internally and externally. Most support the philosophy of software CEO, Sarah Nahm, who says: “I don’t think there’s anything a leader can invest in more than thinking about how you communicate”.
Financial Services leaders, however, tend to buck this trend. Research shows that communication doesn’t usually keep them awake at night. They are stressed by digital disruption, lack of key skills, regulatory issues, market disruption and trust, but seemingly not by their ability to convey issues appropriately to relevant stakeholders or to engage successfully in dialogue.
A CEO survey by PwC suggests that the primary agenda for Financial Services CEOs is digital and technological capabilities, with human capital a secondary focus. In this survey, Financial Services leaders barely mention communication, let alone CEO communication.
Exemplary CEO communication is linked to success
A recent survey of 200 CEOs showed that among the traits needed to succeed at the top are active communication and the ability to inspire others to take action.
“To a large extent, the CEO’s role in execution is communication”, according to management consultants Bain and Company. “CEOs are the cheerleaders. They are the change agents. They are the glue and energy that keeps the organisation aligned and inspired to make things happen.”
Exacerbating the struggles of the financial sector
Management consultancy firm, Hay Group, warns that Financial Services executives overestimate their capabilities to influence, and that they tend to rely on a leadership style that is more coercive rather than collaborative. Hay Group calls for these executives to “make a conscious effort to examine the ways in which they lead …They should take a look in the mirror”.
This is especially relevant in the light of a recent EY summit, which revealed that financial regulators and supervisors place increasing importance on communication. These overlords of the banks and financial institutions want to “get to the whispers before they turn to screams”.
Respecting the importance of individual communication
While CEOs across all other sectors hone their personal and organisational communication skills to engage employees and strengthen customer focus, with a view to capitalising on new opportunities, PwC reveals that Financial Services leaders across the globe struggle to put customers first. Perhaps this is because they place relatively little emphasis on excellent CEO communication.
As a Financial Services CEO, if your raison d’être is strategy and share price, it is perhaps unsurprising that the details sometimes swamp the bigger picture. Yet it is often the bigger picture that needs communicating, whether you are speaking with regulators, investors, customers or staff.
Shining CEOs in the financial sector
Not every leader of Finance shies away from enhancing CEO communication. I’ve worked with several Financial Services leaders who see communication as fundamental to their role, and have become brilliant at it.
There are a few leaders in this sector who promote the importance of great communication. Robert Kaplan, for example, President of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, stresses that leadership is about asking the right questions and listening to the answers; being open to learning and self-improvement. He says that people who fail to achieve this fail to lead.
Communicating with expertise to engender trust
Excellent CEO communication isn’t just about standing up and giving a talk. It’s not merely about facing the media and winning a journalistic game of interview ping pong. It’s also about how you converse with your staff, your Board, your clients and your investors. It’s about how you brand yourself as a leader and how you want people to perceive you.
After the financial crisis of 2008, trust is one of the most important things you can achieve. You may be racing to keep up with digital and regulatory revolutions, but your actions alone will not engender trust. Trust is built through communicating those actions in one-to-one conversations, group meetings, interviews and presentations; in addition to emails, reports and other written materials.
How to achieve great CEO communication
Personal development in the form of appropriate communication coaching empowers leaders to achieve trust, and this, in turn, helps achieve wider business objectives. So if you are a CEO in Financial Services or any other sector, and if you have vaguely considered communication coaching but put it on the back burner, waiting for a less busy time, I urge you to think hard about your decision. That ‘less busy time’ may never come.
The regulators are breathing down your neck (or they will be soon). Your investors are clamouring for positive financial results. You are failing to attract or retain the talent you need.
Right now, the ‘soft skills’ of communication are just as important as industry know-how, and as the face of the company, investing in yourself today could raise the reputation of your business and create the difference between success and failure.