Tag Archives: message

Eight marketing lessons CEOs must learn from the Mitt Romney campaign

  1. Never let a rival define you
  2. If your rival is worried, find out what he knows that you don’t
  3. Employ one marketing smartie who thinks like an outsider, will tell you the truth, and is endowed by you with veto power over messages and themes
  4. When your rival punches you, punch back – but elegantly, by taking the conversation above him to a bigger point
  5. Be who you are but put your energy, vocabulary and instincts on steroids
  6. Stats and numbers can keep you in the weeds; use them shrewdly but don’t depend upon them – tell the story of what they mean in the aggregate to your customer
  7. After a distinct, authentic viewpoint, put nimble thinking and decisiveness above all else
  8. Incessantly cultivate the mindset that every customer is yours to lose; this is the wellspring of both the confidence and the humility every person needs to lead and to prevail
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A leadership secret: Communicating with finesse

This post is dedicated to Scott McNealy, with all due respect and great admiration for his accomplishments.  And his potential.

During a late lunch break on November 10, I turned on the television to watch CNBC.  They were running a clip of an interview with Scott McNealy, one of Silicon Valley's technology thinkers and CEOs, a real success story.  When asked what he thought of the Occupy movement, Mr McNealy said, "get a job."

While I happen to have even stronger feelings than McNealy about what we should do with the anarchists and arsonists who have hijacked the Occupy movement, I was flabbergasted that someone as smart and quick as McNealy couldn't think of a better way to answer the question — or to capitalize on it.  He could have said something equally arresting without appearing insensitive to how the problems afoot in the United States, culturally and commercially, are affecting the rest of us.  It was the perfect opportunity to explore what's back of Occupy, and in McNealy's case, maybe even demonstrate how his new startup can help connect people in an age of gated neighborhoods and the disintegration of the middle class.  Or maybe just to say something more inspired than, "get a job."

And that's when I realized that our leadership problem runs much deeper than I ever imagined.

http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=4525966&searchId=777a9b8fb43ab0af98ab97282b6093bb&npos=51The art of management finesse

Can it be that the astronomical financial and personal success of our business leaders has isolated them so much from the rest of their fellow citizens that they don't realize just how difficult it is to get a job or build business, get a living wage or project fee, or get paid at all?

Yes, it can be.  But I think it's more than that.  I think even the self-made guys are turning into elitists.  After all, their investment bankers parcel out IPO opportunities.  The elitist training begins early.  Many CEOs seem to be disconnecting from the rest of the populace to the degree that their positions are not about leading organizations and innovating but strictly about their own wealth. 

I hope this is not the case with McNealy.  I hope this is just one gaff.  But the gaff pulled me up short and made me acknowledge that the wealth gap is merely one aspect of a larger gulf:  the growing absence of management finesse.

Finesse is often a natural gift.  Whether instinctive or acquired, finesse is a need-to-have, not a nice-to-have.  It's the ingredient that gets messages heard and inspires action. 

Finesse is nurtured by study and a personal emphasis on empathy.  We all stumble.  CEOs, though, have access to a key tool for learning and practicing management finesse to the degree that it can mitigate the stumbles.  The corporate communications function.  A need-to-have, not a nice-to-have.  Like anything else, it's all in how you build it.

Get your finesse on

The very best of the traditional American business canon gives us example after example of leaders who had experienced, legitimate communications advisors and who listened to them.  It's difficult for any human being, much less one with corporate power, to remain human without at least some institutional emphasis on keeping things real.  Corporate Communications should be the one place the CEO can turn whose only ax to grind is seeing the CEO set a clear path for the organization.

Many of today's CEOs are surrounded by yes men and women who take orders instead of tell the emperor he's not wearing any clothes.  Instead of a Merlin, they have court jesters.  Or worse.  These leaders would rather get up and read something a remote underling or PR agent wrote for them than spend time thinking about what they believe and how they can use their positions to lead us out of this mess. [Which includes speaking up about how we got here in the first place — not just blaming Washington or Wall Street.]

If Jack Kennedy had developed his messages this way, we might never had heard his voice or known what he thought.  His process alone should be enough of a template for today's CEO to follow in crafting and articulating messages of insight and intellect.

CEOs:  Owning your message is the price of entry to leadership

You aren't interested in or comfortable with setting aside time to work on your messages and deliver them?  Not acceptable. 

CEOs, thinking about your messages gets you in the habit of exploring every option in front of you.  Of listening.  And of thinking before you open your mouth, helping you find the words to say something enlightening, enriching the conversation because you were in it. I refuse to accept any thinking that excuses you from participating relentlessly in the creation of your messages.  It is part of your job. Like riding herd on financials or helping to win a big account.

Most important:  every opportunity to communicate should serve the purpose of reminding you that being a leader is as much about service as it is about lordship.  Owning your messages can help bridge the gap between the solitary burdens of your office and all the stakeholders in the enterprise's success.  It can help you put your own problems in context.  It can remind you that you're part of something larger than yourself.


Just words

I loved being a speechwriter. 

A lot of it had to do with sitting down with someone and hearing what he or she wanted to say — then working over the course of weeks to help get it just right.  I was fortunate.  I worked with executives who took the time to labor over their speeches.

A speech is a vehicle for delivering a message.  The speaker’s message.  Neither the message nor the speech should be concocted in isolation by a third party.  In fact, I quit my last corporate job when I was asked to work this way.

A third aspect of speechmaking:  every speech must be consistent with those delivered by the speaker before and after it.  Every speech must hold its own on a continuum that reflects the knowledge and values of the speaker.

I never did political speeches because I don’t like writing by committee.  Plus, I suspect that most politicians do not review anything written for them before they actually deliver a speech.  Both the message and the speech are usually in the hands of a handler.  This is risky, because as pressure builds and polls swerve, a politician may lose control of more than the process.  In the hands of others, the messages may swerve as well.

Which is clearly what’s been happening with one of the presidential candidates. 

I remember standing a few feet away from her during a speech in 1992 and thinking, why isn’t she running for president?  She was fresh and earnest.  Unrehearsed yet prepared.  Clearly not handled.  Talking with the audience, not to it, without exaggerating claims to experience and perspective.

So, now there’s this other candidate in her party.  He is clearly in command of his content, but his focus, as delivered in his choice of vocabulary, is on something outside of himself.  As a result, you are hearing his ideas first, which define his persona.  The words are plain, the sentence structure clear — the listener does not have to decode the language and worry about what he really means.  You understand and know whether or not you agree with what he would do in the next four years.

And he’s getting slammed for being good.  By the people who help his opponent with her messages.  Perhaps they have become so jaded by their own behavior, they see oratory in the hands of an accomplished speaker as some sort of red herring.  Maybe they are afraid of putting the real thing on the podium, so they don’t know it when they see it.

There are many reasons this person and his ideas are taking hold, not just the way he speaks.  But the fact that he’s a compelling speaker with a logic flow — able to impress and get a point across in his own way — says volumes about how his mind works and what kind of leader he would be.  You don’t get the sense that the speechwriters or the advisors are steering him or catering to the latest burp in a poll somewhere.  There is consistency from speech to speech and I’ll bet if he wins the nomination, there will be more specificity to the inspiration he values.

If his only slip-up is the snafu with the borrowed phrasing that he didn’t acknowledge in one speech he delivered, we can live with it.  The slip-up was human — not deliberate plagiarism and certainly not covered up.  His message is authentic, because he is.  And his speechwriters and advisors, at this juncture, anyway, seem to know their place. 

And that’s the difference between being a Churchill, a Kennedy, a Reagan or an Obama; being handled; and the instant gratification of words lazily strung together by a charm-meister or desperately grafted onto a power-first, wavering message platform.  It is authenticity unencumbered by ambition, a desire to connect uncompromised by selfish superiority.  It is good speaking and a good speech.