• Liz Whitaker

Witness the masterclass in leadership communications (topped off with a masterstroke)




Every day right now we’re witnessing history. In the UK we’re also witnessing a masterclass in leadership communications. We’re all players in both. In the last few days we’ve seen the UK government prepare for the best possible outcome in the country’s greatest peacetime challenge. And smack bang in the middle of it we have a Prime Minister who understands the impact of a handwritten note. Yes, Boris Johnson, with the weight of an anxious nation on his shoulders, has called on his power of personal. It’s a masterstroke.


First, the masterclass, a communications blueprint for leaders everywhere thinking how to best cope with this universal crisis;


·        Frequency spot on. Regular and timely communications – the nation awaits the Prime Minister’s daily, including weekends, 5 pm press briefing available across all TV channels.


·        Wins on both convenience and impact. A live broadcast means everyone is receiving the same message at the same time. No favouritism, no room for miscommunication, no Twitter soundbites.  


·        It’s a two-way format with journalists asking the questions on behalf of the country.


·        The right messenger. We’re hearing from Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief science officer (these two have 100% credibility because one look at them will tell you they couldn’t spin a story even if their lives depended on it – totally believable, the experts, we’re listening) plus a succession of ministers chosen for the message. This is a PM confident enough to allow others to shine. He leads.


·        He starts by acknowledging the contribution made by people so far. The briefings open with a thank-you to individuals, everybody who is keeping the country going and everyone who is making sacrifices.


·        The mission is crystal clear – protect the NHS, save lives, flatten the curve. The message is equally clear – stay at home, social distancing. And they are repeated over and over again.


·        Positive and compelling vision of the future ‘we’ll send coronavirus packing’ ‘we will beat this and we will beat it together’. He talks about ‘We’ – not us and you.


·        Difficult messages are flagged up before being fully announced – the over-70s to stay indoors, pubs and café closed, schools closed/no exams etc – giving us time to get used to the idea. Even two weeks ago these were unthinkable.


·        Adult-to-adult communications and tone of voice. We are being asked to follow the rules. Not told, as in parent-to-child.


·        Appeals to different learning types. Visuals get the graphs. Auditory get the words. Kinaesthetic get the energy (note the light touch banging of fist on the lectern to drive home the point). There’s no faking going on here.


·        We get the facts as they are known, even in circumstances that are changing by the minute.


·        He finishes with a call to action. ‘Follow this advice. It’s crucial’.


This is commoditised communication at its very best which, and I do say this in The Power of Personal, is perfect for crisis situations. However, the Government has separated out some 1.5 million people deemed to be high risk and they will receive a personalised letter asking them to stay at home to protect themselves.


Finally, the masterstroke. A seven-year old girl wrote to Boris Johnson explaining she had cancelled her birthday party because of coronavirus. He sent a handwritten response. Yes, one of the busiest men in the world found the time to put pen to paper.


Full story here. https://www.heart.co.uk/news/coronavirus/boris-johnson-letter-girl-cancels-birthday-party/


Contacts across the world – please share any communications best practice from your governments. We’re all on a learning curve like no other!

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