Report Reveals Gap Between Leaders and Followers: How Young Professionals Can Close It

There is a wide gap between how public relations leaders feel they are doing and how their followers feel they are doing, according to a recent survey conducted by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and Heyman Associates.

In an article, the Plank Center explained what executive leaders can do to ease this gap, but there are also steps young professionals can take, both now and in our future careers.

Infographic courtesy of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama
Infographic courtesy of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama

If you don’t agree with something, speak up — with caution

While leaders graded their performance an average of an A-, followers graded their leaders’ performance an average of a C+.

That C+ average may be the product of a lack of knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes. As new professionals, we may not be able to directly boost our leaders’ performance, but we can still help close the gap. By increasing the amount of conversations we have with our leaders, we can build relationships that help us understand their perspectives and vice versa.

If you do not like or understand something at the company, ask questions rather than making accusations. Sometimes it is just a matter of learning the reason things are done a certain way. Remember, company leaders have been in the business of public relations for many years and know a lot more than we know. That does not mean they don’t make mistakes, but it does mean we need to respect them.

As you move up in your career, take note of the top leaders. What do they do that you like? What do they do that you do not like? The more you observe as a young professional, the better you prepare to take the lead later in your career.

Engage early and often

The survey found that more engaged professionals are more likely to consider the organization’s culture supportive, rate company leaders’ performance higher, place more trust in the organization and express greater job satisfaction.

Company engagement is a two-way street. Your leaders should take the initiative to make employees feel included and appreciated, but we also have to take some initiative as the younger professionals.

Be present at work, be social, share feedback with your supervisor and volunteer for extra opportunities such as company-wide community service projects and committees. If you ever start questioning whether you are at the right company, do everything you can to engage before deciding to look elsewhere.

It is very hard to find workplace happiness without making a conscious effort to engage. Simple things such as saying hello to the people who walk by your cubicle in the morning and grabbing lunch with your coworkers a couple times a week can significantly improve how engaged and invested you feel in your company.

Rest assured; you chose the right profession

The survey found that 60 percent of public relations leaders were engaged in their work, and past Gallup studies reveal public relations leaders are more engaged than leaders in many other professions. So, although a gap between public relations leaders and their followers exists, rest assured that our profession has some of the most engaged professionals.

The future of public relations leadership is in our hands. Let’s make it a bright one.

More about the survey

The survey gathered responses from 838 public relations executives and managers across America. Grades were assigned based on mean scores for responses. According to Plank Center Research Director Dr. Bruce Berger, the biennial report’s goals are to assess the state of leadership in the public relations field and to identify gaps and opportunities to enhance communications leader development. Read more of the survey’s findings on the Plank Center website.


PRSSA Immediate Past President Heather Harder is a 2014 graduate of Elon University and an account coordinator at Capstrat in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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