I Got Mine and I Got Yours Too.

Narcissism and leadership

A sub-optimal combination or How words and actions betray the self-obsessed

Irrespective of one’s political leanings, or view of the desirability of a second Clinton Presidency, the one thing that the current USA Presidential campaign is making very clear is that even in the age of self-obsession voters soon tire of obvious narcissists.

Someone needs to tell Donald Drumpf (yes, that is the original family name) that ‘leadership is not all about you’. As The Donald’s unravelling campaign demonstrates, people want leaders to be all about the concerns of the populace not the projection and protection of the candidate’s ego. So, no Donald, it’s not all about you, just as it was never, in our own example, all about Kevin, nor is it still.

The particularly disappointing thing about the Trump campaign is that it is so bad that it allows the Clinton campaign to do nothing other than say – ‘ well you can’t let him into the Whitehouse’. Policy discussion has not just taken a back-seat, it has been left at the curb.

The cult of personality is a shallow and lazy way to pick leaders. Perhaps the Trump candidacy, fed as it has been by the media new and old, will finally demonstrate that there needs to be some focus on more than grubby political blood sport. Yes, nasty narcissists have been, and still are, elected. However, ultimately, all have failed to be leaders of any quality and reputation. The shame of it is the damage done on the way through.

There has certainly been no shortage of such characters in the world of commerce.

What does all this tell business? Well, apart from driving more disillusionment with the political process, the lesson on leadership is plain. Words matter, a lot. Actions matter, even more and attitude matters, the most.

And, right on cue, up pops another example of actions not matching words.

When the, for now, CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumph, faced a Congressional Hearing on the issue of the bank opening over 1 million accounts without customer’s knowledge – and charging them for the privilege- he claimed that the buck stopped with him. What he did, though, was to blame the 3,500 low level staff he fired for the breach (but only after regulators found out the bank was engaged in the massive fraud).

Senator Elizabeth Warren didn’t let him off lightly. She pointed out that he had not suffered one cent of penalty (he is paid over US$20 Million in salary and bonuses per year) and that not one senior executive had resigned or been fired. That, she scolded him, showed a total lack of accountability. Now he is unlikely to hold his job much longer and the bank’s board has ordered him to pay back $41 Million in bonuses and stock options.

Leadership is having and demonstrating the right attitude, saying the right words and matching them with the right actions. Egomaniacal rants about how “I alone can fix this”, ego insecurity that demands vicious and venal retorts to real and imagined slights and demeaning, disrespectful behaviour to ‘friend’ and foe alike, are not the marks of a truly successful and respected business leader. We can only hope that they prove to be just as unsuccessful in modern democracies.

RMK+A is highly experienced in assisting senior executives and CEO’s with strategic communications, including key message development and all aspects of stakeholder engagement.

Spare-the-politics

Spare the politics………puh-lease.

Phew, well I’m glad that’s over.

9-weeks of excruciatingly numbing political meandering that delivered………… well, not much.

One of the aspects of the campaign that we have been discussing internally has been if we learnt anything. The answer is a general ‘Yes,’ however the content you could treat on a take it or leave it basis.

Polls

Dare I say it, they were one of the highlights of the Aussie campaign.

Despite the general twitterings of the media, the polls were pretty much on a consistent ‘knife-edge’ across the campaign; the end result? A cliff-hanger.

Based on the musings of our esteemed daily papers one could have been excused for thinking that our pollsters were as reliable as their British counterparts (or the BoM forecasting Melbourne weather) with their ‘forget the numbers, Turnbull’s got it’ commentary.

Messages

It helps to have them.

Attempting to bore your target audience in to submission clearly doesn’t work.

Hopefully the last couple of months’ acts as the lethal injection that obsolete sloganeering without substance needs.

It could have been worse I guess: Cheap Cheap anyone?

The Greens

Surprising? Not really.

Well performed? Not really.

Going places? Most likely.

I would have thought that in the absence of discussion void of any real substance regarding a pragmatic (forget about visionary) forward-looking agenda for the nation, that there was a huge opportunity for The Greens to appeal to the abiding Australian sense of egalitarianism.

This ‘third force’ in Australian politics also appears to have been sucked in to a narrow (and narrowcast) script, despite the ample areas of opportunity (climate change, asylum seekers, homelessness, re-balancing Commonwealth infrastructure spending to include more public transport, the cost of living etc etc) for the further ‘Left’ of pour political landscape to carve out more ground.

The Greens campaign I would describe as overlooking the bigger picture; bicycle super highways have cool renders tho.

Our preferential voting system

Is it time to give it the boot?

As it stands all seats in the House of Reps come down to a two-horse race. Why is it that the jockey of every beaten horse then gets a say in the eventual winner, even though their mount dropped out before the home straight?

The ‘One Vote, One Value’ principle seems to be undermined when a vote for one set of values (or whatever substitutes for them these days) ends up in a camp with a different set of principles.

Preferences don’t even seem to make much difference. As a case in point, the ALP received its second lowest primary vote in history and was a kick of the footy from winning this election.

Which leads me to the……

AEC

I read earlier this week that India can count 800 million votes in a day.

Brexit was confirmed in 7-hours.

In Australia our measly 10 million votes are only approximately 70%. Sure we have the complexity of preferences and the use of the postal system etc, but surely we can speed things up a bit.

A move to first past the post voting, or maybe even using that futuristic thing called the internet could help?

Scare Campaigns

Work.

If, the target of said campaign permits them to.

With a week or more to go before the poll, a robust disaggregation of what was being considered for Medicare (and why), contrasted against the scaremongering may have enabled our soon to be re-sworn in PM to make a statesmanlike speech on election night.

Split the ‘Right’

Given the ‘conservative discontent’ within the broad church of the Liberal Party, will it be an ALP strategy over the course of this, and subsequent terms of government, to try and foment this unhappiness with the view to seeing ‘Team Cory Bernardi’ become to the Libs what The Greens are to them?

Perhaps, but unless we did away with preferential voting such an achievement wouldn’t make any tangible difference (based on where I presume preferences would flow).

What did we learn?

If you want to bring people with you, one needs to understand who they are, what’s relevant to them, and speak to them in their language. Ideally, this process won’t take any longer than necessary.

If you have an opportunity, take it. Never expect that it will exist forever.

Keep things simple, clear and efficient. No one has time, nor are interested in reasons/excuses why the apparently simple is actually not simple. In short, understand and meet expectations.

If, and when something incorrect is said; correct the record. Keep correcting the record until the record is correct. If you don’t do the work you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.

Strategy. A lot of strategies look great on paper and over sound great over a cup of coffee, but said strategy is going to deliver the same result as would have been the case prior to developing, investing in, and implementing it why bother? Better to spend the time identifying what you want to achieve and develop a plan that will actually deliver difference rather than same same.

So………

As things stand today, let’s hope that Sir Peter Cosgrove extends his French sojourn a little longer to allow the dust to settle, and for us innocent Australians to focus on the important stuff in life like football, kids going back to school, and paying bills. You know, the things that need to be considered by every Australian, every day (and yes, that includes football).

 

 

A new strange love

A new Strangelove

Or: how I learned to stop worrying and love engagement

I’ve been involved in Government communications for a bit over 20 years. During that time there has been a lot of change, and like all communication professionals, I’ve needed to learn a lot of new things. But there’s one thing – one ‘ah-ha’ moment – that stands out above all others.

This was the moment when I saw that the discipline of communications that I’d been so absorbed in had some strict limitations, and that there were problems that a traditional comms mindset couldn’t solve. I didn’t lose my faith in comms altogether, but I did take on a second, complementary system of belief.

Early on in my comms career, I became aware of a group of people elsewhere in my department involved in talking to communities and running public meetings. In this department they were called the community engagement team. While they were communicating with the public, like us in comms, we had very little to do with them in an operational sense.

I was fine with that! My comms colleagues and I liked to see ourselves as pragmatic, hard-nosed and strategic. We reckoned we understood the organisation and the political context and had the skills to craft messages and design programs that influenced what our target audiences thought, felt and did in ways beneficial to our great State.

From my (unenlightened) viewpoint at that time, it seemed that the engagement people were spending way too much time meeting with and talking to the public – including some of our department’s harshest critics. Worse, they were even giving them influence over decision-making!

My epiphany came about as a result of doing some fairly desperate issues management. One program in particular received so much pushback from the community, and criticism by the media that it became an election issue (albeit a low level one).

Now, it’s a much remarked thing that, for both individuals and organisations, it often takes a shock – like the failure of a tried and true way of doing things – to make you review your approach and adopt new ways of doing things. And that’s what happened to me.

In this case, we had to beat a hasty public relations retreat, bunker down and regroup. When we returned to the fray we had a new approach and had taken on board community engagement expertise.

Working with engagement methodologies supported by communications, we began to win back ground by rebuilding trust, stakeholder by stakeholder.

Success didn’t come overnight, but it did come.

The key thing I learned was that communications is a powerful tool for educating and influencing audiences, but it has its limits – and specifically in this case, it cannot by itself rebuild trust when trust has been lost. For that, engagement is the way to go – and probably the only way!

I’m still trying to figure out why it had been so hard for me as a communicator to grasp this earlier. I think it’s got to do with the different mindsets that communications and engagement represent – but that’s a subject for another time!

Sorry_300px

Sorry – the Contrite Contrition

The mistakes that drive cynicism and undermine redemption

Saying ‘sorry’ for an incident, or issue does not ‘cut-it’ any more with affected stakeholders, or the media. Insincere apologies can make the situation even worse.

Unfortunately, CEOs have fallen into contrite contrition in just using the words, but not fully recognising the importance of the sincerity element of them. They may seek to display remorse, but they have forgotten the power ‘sorry’ possesses for people directly affected by the issue to ‘move on’ and how it can earn forgiveness.

Although saying ‘sorry’ was once the bane of all CEOs in a crisis because the legal departments would not allow it to be said for fear of admitting guilt, it now rolls off the tongue of executives whenever they feel it important to put pride aside and acknowledge a mistake.

They do it with such ease and repetition that they have forgotten two important tenants of communication –

  1. messages must address the affected stakeholders, not the broad community, and
  2. any lack of sincerity will result in the affected stakeholders feeling even more insulted, or harmed than before the artificial apology.

CEOs of the Commonwealth Bank, VW, Mitsubishi, 7/11 stores, health care organisations have all apologised for being ‘caught out’ by issues in recent times for which their organisation was responsible. They fumble with words such as ‘values’, ‘ethics’, ‘principles’ – all used to take the high moral ground and deflect blame to others down the ranks.

In most cases, they are following the ‘tried and true’ formula of crisis management – demonstrate ‘action’ after the ‘apology’ and follow it up with ‘taking responsibility’.

They use it to (a) get the media off their backs (because it gives the media the grab: “I’m sorry”) and (b) to get the staff of the organisation to ‘ensure that the issue does not happen again’.

It is called the ‘clear-up’ principle!

The formula is:

  • Statement of regret – “I’m sorry that this issue has occurred.
  • Statement of action – “We shall do everything to ensure that it does not happen again.”
  • Statement of responsibility – “We shall take responsibility for rectifying with the issue.”

When using this formula if you don’t understand your stakeholders and their influence, you are wasting your time with general apologetic words. They become meaningless, especially in today’s age of ‘self’.

The affected stakeholders are caught in cognitive dissonance – the disconnect between what is actually true and what they believe to be true.

This causes frustration which can, in turn, manifest in not only disappointment, but also anger by those who feel cheated of the expected apology.

This is best illustrated by the article entitled Apologies and Settlement in Court Review (Volume 45, Robbennolt) which found that statements of fault acceptance had more impact than apologies that simply stated sympathy without responsibility.

Therefore, to address this disconnect the secrets for saying “sorry” today are:

  • Be genuinely empathetic about your stakeholders’ situation
  • ‘Tune in’ to your affected stakeholders; know exactly who and how they are being adversely affected and ensure your apology is directed at that situation
  • Demonstrate that you care about them by empathising with their plight; it is good for your relationship
  • Convey empathy with a genuine tone and pause after delivering your apology so it does not feel like a ‘brush off’
  • Take more responsibility than necessary, especially in an ambiguous situation
  • Avoid the superfluous ‘sorry’

RMKA has many years of experience in crisis and issues management around the world and the need to show the effectiveness of a sincere apology. It can provide you with the ability and supporting communication plans to not only say: “I can see you were harmed by our actions and that matters to me”, but also to understand the impact of this statement on your stakeholders and its acceptance by them.

Now practice saying: “I’m sorry….”