Thursday, January 17, 2013

On Leadership & PR

In our complex world today, the ability to communicate well with people is essential.  No one can expect to be an effective leader without some type of communication skills.  But real communication skill is not the same thing as being good at public relations.  And when the two are confused, what results is extremely poor leadership.

PR and brand-building is a recent development of a capitalist society, in which everyone is trying to sell something.  I suppose there’s a time and place for that.  But when important and troubling events are going on in a community, it’s no time for PR.  It’s no time to pull out well-worn marketing phrases.  And if your “brand” is built around integrity, honesty, and truth-seeking, that brand will only be destroyed by over-use of PR.

Leaders are not in their positions just to serve people platitudes and clichés.

Leaders are honest.  Leaders take responsibility for the decisions they’ve made, and are not afraid to defend those decisions.  Leaders don’t hide behind canned statements written for them by their marketing departments.  Real leaders don’t do things they’re ashamed of, or if they do, they freely confess their mistake and ask for forgiveness.  Leaders of integrity will communicate openly, honestly, and respectfully with those they’re supposed to be leading.

PR is about presenting an image.  PR is about spinning events to make yourself and your organization look good, sometimes claiming credit for initiatives that you weren’t even a part of.  PR is entirely about perception.  PR is not about what is true, it’s about manipulating what others think.

A real leader understands that it’s better to embrace the consequences of an unpopular decision than to lie & evade those consequences.  A real leader understands that those he or she is leading are adults who deserve to know what’s going on the organization they’ve dedicated so much time, effort, and money to.  A real leader will speak his or her own words, looking those they’re leading square in the eye, and will answer a direct, honest question directly and honestly.

And that’s why a real leader should at times be a nightmare for his or her PR department.  Instead of just sounding like another person selling a product, a leader actually performs important actions, with vision and integrity, and knows how to communicate effectively and truthfully about those actions.

With all of this in mind, think about the leaders of your organization.  Are they just PR people calling themselves leaders, or do they actually have what it takes?

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