• Barnett Waddingham
    Barnett Waddingham
  • What Boris Can Teach Us About Leadership Communication

    By Rob McWilliam, Change Formation

    One of the leaders we have all become more familiar with in the past year is Boris Johnson. Leaders in any organisation can learn much from the successes and failures of his communications strategy.

    Government communication during the covid pandemic

    Back in early 2020, Boris Johnson was promoting a message of hope. He was on a mission to bolster an already wavering economy with the sheer force of his optimism.

    In stark contrast came his tone in late March, announcing the first lockdown. This was a shock to most, in part due to his dramatic shift in tone. Cue panic buying of toilet rolls!

    By the second lockdown in the autumn, the communication strategy had changed significantly. Facts and figures came to the fore, accompanied by expert analysis.

    Information was presented clearly and simply, without feeling ‘dumbed down’. Questions were fielded from the public as well as journalists.

    While a few unwise promises were still made (“Schools will remain open” springs to mind), these were the exception to the rule.

    This doesn’t mean that the tone has changed to one of pessimism. The government continues to give a positive message of hope. Boris presents this with cautious optimism, facts and figures (“data not dates”), and expert analysis.

    What can we learn from the government’s approach?

    Realism is important, even if it isn’t what people want to hear. If you disguise the truth, you take away people’s ability to prepare – both practically and emotionally.

    Don’t dumb down, but do make sure the facts are presented clearly.

    Remember that you might not be the best person to communicate every message. Bring in experts when you need to.

    Give people the opportunity to ask questions, even if these are challenging to answer.

    Be cautiously optimistic, but be clear about your reasons for optimism. Explain your reasoning and the steps you are taking to facilitate a good outcome.

    Developing leaders’ communication skills

    We deliver bespoke communications training and 1:1 coaching for leaders.

    Explore our website at https://www.changeformation.co.uk/, or call us on 01444 702 701 to find out more.


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