PRSay, a forum for PRSA members and other PR pros to engage in a dialogue with PRSA leaders, recently predicted 12 trends that will change the industry in 2012. Lodged in the list of predominantly digital media predictions was this: the need for “great industry leadership” to help the industry “become the management consultants of the 21st century.”
This is less a prediction and more the expression of a long-time need. Nobody underestimates the importance of leaders, but what makes a leader or leadership “great” in PR? I admit, I've never defined greatness in terms of “management consultants.” Moreover, I don't think our profession has ever defined leadership “greatness,” which likely has as many meanings as definitions of the practice.
Do great leaders, for example, possess powerful visions and build communications empires? People like Dan Edelman, Harold Burson, and other agency legends? Do great leaders open doors of opportunity for others in the field, e.g., Betsy Plank? Do they model a strong ethical orientation like Arthur Page? Are they good listeners, powerful storytellers, team builders, and persuasive strategic thinkers and counselors?
What's the scorecard on leadership in our field today? Are we trending in the right direction despite some glaring and too frequent examples of questionable practice? Can most leaders in PR be great, or does some universal law inevitably dictate a normal distribution of leaders – a few great, a few poor, and most in between the extremes?
What can we do to better develop and cultivate leaders? As a researcher and teacher I'm curious about what educators can do to help students develop a better understanding of leadership and to nurture their leadership skills and qualities. After all, the future of our profession is closely aligned with the qualities and capabilities of our leaders today and tomorrow.
Two Plank Center research studies are now gathering ideas about leadership development through the eyes of educators and seasoned practitioners. But we need to hear from students and professionals at all levels, so I hope you will weigh in on the topic. Leadership is a complex concept that offers many points of entry and learning. Please share your thoughts and email me a brief story or example of something you learned about leadership through a specific job or educational experience.
Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at email@example.com.