Thursday, May 5, 2011

10 Communication Lessons From The OBL Capture*

I am watching this situation unfold and am fascinated, obviously, on a lot of levels. From a communication perspective here are a few thoughts. Not intended to criticize or endorse. Just trying to learn from the best school of all – life itself.

1. Define the narrative often, and be passionate about it when you do that. In graduate school I studied a lot of crazy ideas, which I appreciated having the opportunity to do, but they were still crazy. One of them was that we live in "postmodern" times where nothing means anything. And that whoever dares to impose a narrative on things is somehow a "colonialist" (read liar). That is ridiculous. Leadership is about taking a course of action, for a reason. Risking it all for the sake of a goal. Yes, like in a great movie or book. That is life.

2. Relate to your audience as adult to adult, not parent to child. The promise of disclosure, and its limits, occur in that vein. You can certainly say "I am sure you understand that I can only share so much." You definitely cannot say, "I know a lot more than you do and you'll just have to trust me." Disclose to the maximum and then say, "That is all I can share and here's why." Then say why. Then stop talking.

3. There are some things you can't say. But for everything else, there's Mastercard. (Forgive me, I couldn't resist.) My point: Put everything before the public that you can. In writing. Let them look at it, dissect it, write their own analyses. If somebody says you can't share it, ask why. If you're not convinced, share it. Trust is based on openness first.

4. Respond to criticism directly and completely but set the rules about how you do that. Example: You choose the place, you choose the time, you keep to a schedule (e.g. we'll respond to the issues from 3-3:30 p.m. daily, in X place). The critics don't control you.

5. Either show the photos and the videos or don't show them. Don't drag it out.

6. Pick messengers who look like your audience. Get out of your comfort zone on this. They should not all resemble you personally either in looks or in manner. This is where corporate culture can really be a bad thing.

7. Create a communications strategy for each audience. You can't sell a computer to an adult by talking as if to a kid. Of course the messages should be related. Designate different messengers appropriately.

8. Match the messenger to the medium. If you put someone on camera, they better be good on camera.

9. Look to Hollywood depictions of leaders in similar situations. It's not low-class. Art frees you to look at life. Great actors who have played presidents include Martin Sheen, Kurt Russell, and Harrison Ford. A great TV show that depicted similar situations as this was "24." Watch, take notes, and adopt what works.

10. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Communicating is hard. There are no answers. Only more questions. What you're looking for are the time-tested principles from the past that you can apply to the future.

Good luck!

* I work for the government, but all opinions are my own.