I am a speaker. My friends and family only laugh and say that I am really a talker. OK, I love verbal communication. Standing before a crowd of people you do not know and connecting with them in a way that makes them smile, laugh, and perhaps even learn, is one of life’s most enjoyable and rewarding pursuits.
I am by profession an executive recruiter. I get paid to evaluate leadership talent. Over the years I have successfully done that in seven countries and four continents. My experience has shown me that the one constant in people who are successful leaders is that they are also good communicators, storytellers.
There are a lot of people who did not like Ronald Reagan’s politics, but few could claim that he was a bad communicator. In fact, he may well be one of the best wholesale politician/communicators in our nation’s history. Bill Clinton, another storyteller of some note, was a great communicator but his strength was in retail politics. He knew how to connect with people on a one-on-one basis. People I know who met the President said, that while in his presence, he was very adept at making you feel like the most important person in the room. Yes, he could deliver a rousing speech, but he was at his best in one-on-one or small group forums.
So, it was not too startling for me to hear President Obama admit to something that most people already knew: that while he is a great orator, and a very smart policy wonk, perhaps even smarter than Mr. Clinton, he has failed in his ability to communicate, to tell America a compelling, engaging story that would encourage support for his ideas and policy agenda. Today, this critical failing threatens his administration and his re-election. By contrast, when the majority of Americans disagreed with President Reagan, their opposition was rarely directed at him personally. People realized that he really did believe that his point of view was right. His sincerity earned him a great deal of respect and latitude. Like President Clinton, he left office as an immensely popular leader. While President Reagan will go down in history as a great President, he failed on many aspects of a traditional conservative’s governing agenda: balancing the budget, reducing the size of government or not raising taxes. These failings did not propel him into the sacred realm of American politics No, it was because he believed in his ideas and because he was a great storyteller, a man who understood that leading people, gaining the support of political friends and foes, was about being a good, authentic executive who knew how to communicate his vision. People liked that.
Men and women who lead companies and their employees should take note of the successes and travails of our political leaders. Are you a Reagan, a Clinton or an Obama in terms of how effectively you communicate your vision, mission and values?
Having good ideas is no longer enough.
© 2012 John Gregory Self