Not long ago, a VP of a supremely successful, publicly traded tech company in San Francisco, called out-of-the-blue asking for help. His bosses had told him he'd reached his professional ceiling. His division was doing well. Products were being designed and delivered. What went wrong? "Your team finds you uninspiring and indecisive."
In essence, he was told, "Get to the point. Be inspiring. Or you're done."
Wow. Uninspiring. Fireable offense? Harsh, yes--but a very real consequence of poor communication skills.
Which brings me to my point: In 2016, communication is a meme of its own. And if you don't manage it well, you're toast. Being clear and presenting yourself well at all levels, is in fact, a revolution.
With the preponderance of social media, making your own headline is a necessity of social and economic survival. And with Facebook, Instagram, and now Twitter moving beyond 140 characters, you get more than a headline. If I were interesting, why wouldn't people want to follow me? Everyone loves a good storyteller. But how to get heard over decreasing attention spans and increasing din?
That line of thinking logically transports beyond the public sphere of Donald Trump or the Kardashians. It operates on multiple levels: at dinner parties; in the classroom; in the office; in the boardroom.
Today, in the businesses we walk into, companies are focused on teams, along with increasingly sophisticated business collaboration software, that allow those teams to work together to create more innovative products. That kind of cohesion requires that those team members are following someone to that goal. Yet in so many of our client's worlds, we're finding team leaders who are struggling to gain allegiance and focus.
Back to our VP on the ropes...
"What," he asked, "can I do to make them want to follow me?" This successful, bright VP, who'd graduated from an exclusive private university, needed a key to employ in defining himself to others. He needed help in COMMUNICATING. Don't they teach that in school today?
Truth is, not really.
My business partner and husband, Jon Duncanson and I come from a world where telling stories was our bread and butter. As longtime television journalists, our stories were broadcast at the highest levels of journalism. But the work, really, is simple: research, interview, write, deliver. What's hard is communicating those messages inspirationally.... that is, telling a good story. And making people want to follow you.
Speaking to students at Stanford University Law School recently, I was interested to note how little these highly educated young people--not to mention the professor--understood about the business that has been informing the public for decades.
Little or no coursework in our schools at any level really teaches students how the media works or how to understand its biases, or even how to clearly communicate in that medium or in public presentations. Instead, we learn about the written word. How to put a sentence or a paragraph together. Organize our research. We've learned to prepare a smart paper or speech.
But communication goes beyond intelligence. It goes beyond vocabulary. It's about clarity of thought. It's about weaving a tale. It's about making our words dance. Can we help people see and feel our story? Can we move people --to give; to act; to reach? Can we inspire? Not just on TV, but at work. Can we lead?
Actually, it's a skill that can be taught. And should be practiced--like piano lessons. And pitching. That's especially true in this era where communication is instant--and every uttered or written word can cost a company millions of dollars. Or drop an executive down the ladder. Don't believe me? Ask Mark Zuckerberg, who before coaching had his own problems telling his story.
Granted, I'm in the communication business, so you know where I'm coming from. That VP embraced our coaching. He worked hard. He left that company and is now a VP at another monster start-up and is rocking it.
The evidence is clear. The new business paradigm is this: Say it right. Say it clear. And in the words of Neil Diamond, "Say it loud. Hell Yeah."