2021 Outlook: Three Questions on Executive Positioning

Ed.’s note: Our agency leaders recently took a beat to ponder their beats. The following is a look back on the year that was in executive positioning, and thoughts on what lies ahead for the practice in 2021.

What has this past, unprecedented year taught you as a communications professional most about executive positioning?

This past year taught me that an authentic voice is often more powerful than an immaculately delivered message. Thought leadership requires more than expertise — it requires trust. And while, unsurprisingly, leaders achieve trust through direct, honest communication, it’s also achieved in large part by exhibiting authenticity. 

The innumerable challenges and physical isolation of the past year have made this need for more human and authentic communication more pronounced. Where executive communications of the past may have favored corporate messaging over the personal, a leader’s authentic voice is now a requirement of effective executive communications and positioning coming out of 2020. The more sterile, overly scripted and corporate-feeling communications of years past will no longer suffice. 

What do you believe separated the struggling brand executives from the more resilient leaders during this past year and why?  

Brands that infused personalized and demonstrable empathy into their executive communications and thought leadership were better able to weather the challenges of the past year.  

In a period of near-constant change, empathy affords leaders and the brands they represent more flexibility and — perhaps counter intuitively — the ability to convey steadiness. In addition to being the right message during challenging times, the expression of empathy toward others often generates the same in reverse for the brand and leadership. With so much out of the control of brands and leaders, an empathetic message serves to protect the reputation of both. 

What will be the biggest communication opportunities for executives and leaders in 2021 and why? 

For most industries, communities and the broader economy, 2021 will be a year of recovery and rebound. For executives, that comeback presents an opportunity to overcome the chronic challenges to leadership: a lack of awareness and a lack of trust.  

Leaders who effectively align their role and the brands they represent with the broader comeback story can drive resonance with key audiences and build deeper, more meaningful relationships with stakeholders. In doing so, executives can emerge from 2021 with greater name recognition and trust.  

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