Christophe Ginisty is the President of the International Public Relations Association. He was recently interviewed by the Swiss Radio prior to a speech of French President, François Hollande on television. Christophe was elaborating on “the mistakes” that, in his view, President Hollande has committed so far. And I was astonished to hear how much they have in common with pitfalls in which we see so many of us, Business Executives, fall.
I suggest you read excerpts (translated from French) from this interview, thinking not of the politician they aim at, but of yourself and your colleagues. It is worth it…
- Disrespecting communication means disrespecting your audience: “There seems to be some kind of a negative fantasy when it comes to communication. It looks as if communication were bad, communicating means lying or betraying, manipulating, using the message. But, in fact, to communicate is simply to respect the other, understand his/her thirst for understanding, knowing or being informed”. For Ginisty, many leaders seem to be reticent about communicating as their unconscious bias is that it is mainly a non-authentic, window-dressing exercise. If their intention is respectable, the impact, as we read, is disastrous: People feel disrespected, manipulated, ill-informed and become suspicious…
- Abdicating the agenda: “If you do not take the initiative in terms of communication, Nature abhorring Void, others will communicate for/instead of you. This implies that you will constantly be under fire and reacting in front of what is happening or to the criticisms of your opponents.” On top of eliciting a tremendous badwill as seen under the previous bullet point, not communicating means abdicating the agenda and being relegated to a reactive position instead of being purposeful.
- No communication means no leadership!: “People assume that the President and his Government are in the lead, doing “something” but nobody knows for sure what it is. There is a lack of readability, a lack of making it known. Ask people around you about their perception of what is the main intervention axis of the Government, and people are confused in providing you with a clear answer…” This reminds me of those silly bumper stickers we saw on cars in the 80’s: “Don’t follow me, I am lost too!”… It is difficult to do worse, in terms of leadership.
- No communication in times of hardship, leads to the “boat is sinking but at least I am rowing” syndrome: “Ministers, as they lack clear direction and impulse from the top, feel it is their freedom or duty to act and communicate. By so doing, these create confusion and cacophony and, worse, they dilute the overall action of their Government in a series of unrelated tasks”. The lack of a clearly communicated “Superior Purpose” from the part of the leader, will inevitably create anxiety and chaos amongst his leadership team, ending in everyone “pulling the blanket” at their advantage, creating silo vision, misalignment, politics and tensions when one brings it at organizational level.
- “People expect communication and not communication events”: Often, we explain to some clients that running a great yearly Convention is good but far from enough. Engagement (and communication) must not be “events” but on-going, all year round “processes”. As Christophe Ginisty says, closing his own radio interview: “A promise feeds itself with follow-up!”
Too often, we see well intentioned leaders hesitate to communicate for all sorts of good reasons:
- “We are not ready yet!”: when profound changes occur (new strategy, reorganization, merger or acquisition), leaders hesitate to go out in front of the troops to communicate, as they, themselves, are unsure about the new structure, impact etc… This is a fatal mistake. They come across as isolated, arrogant, neglecting their people and anxiety raises rapidly, accompanied by all sorts of negative fantasies…
- “My boss isn’t clear himself, so what can I say?”: This is another classic and it is very fair to say. But, courageous leaders will take the initiative to connect and communicate what they know and don’t know, what they can promise and not promise. Hiding in your office is not the solution and your people will go and collect the gossips of others in the organization, making things worse for you.
- “I don’t know yet what to say”: Saying that you don’t know is already a courageous act of communication. The “Disruption Economy”, term Gerd Leonhard and I have chosen to describe the new, emerging, economy we are faced with, has profoundly shaken one of the old assumptions: “Leaders should know”. Well… They don’t always know! And when they have the integrity to admit it, far from losing credit, they gain respect and often get their people to stand-up and raise the level of their own game.
We often look at politicians with disdain, and I admit to be one of the first to do so. But here is something we can learn from them and where we should be humble about: How better are we than Mr. Hollande in our communication?