Peak Communicators
October 9, 2014

The Art of Leadership Series

Last week, I had the fortune of attending the Art of Leadership conference here in Vancouver. An interesting, insightful and inspiring one-day event, it featured an impressive line-up that included Rudy Giuliani, Hayley Wickenheiser, Charles Duhugg, Dan Roam and Dr. Vince Molinaro.

Given the sheer volume of information presented and exchanged at the conference, I though it best to share the key learnings from each speaker in a series of blog posts to be published in the coming weeks.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the keynote for the event and arguably the most influential speaker, so it seemed appropriate to start by sharing some of his leadership principles.

Rudy Giuliani’s Six Leadership Principles:

1) Establish a set of beliefs: what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish? Always have a plan and an agenda and ensure you are accomplishing it daily. You must be clear when you share your goals and plan with others. People can’t follow ambiguity. And don’t forget that you need to be able to measure your goals.

2) Be an optimist. People follow hope. And they won’t follow someone who can’t provide solutions. Ensure you train and encourage those around you to always bring you solutions instead of problems.

3) Show courage. It’s a fact: most great people fail before they succeed. Take risks, learn from your failings, pick yourself up and overcome your fears.

4) Relentless preparation. Rehearse everything. Think of every possible outcome and prepare for it. Understand that things may go wrong and something unanticipated may happen. But if you’re prepared, your confidence and agility will see you through the tough, unanticipated moments.

5) Team work. Know yourself and build a team that balance your weaknesses with the strengths of other people.

6) Communication. Sharing feedback with those you work with is key. And track metrics to ensure you know exactly where you are as compared to your original goal.

Giuliani was charismatic and charming — as one hopes a leader to be — and often illuminated his principles by applying them to his experiences as a lawyer and as Mayor of New York City on 9/11.

But it was his final point, which didn’t make it onto his toplist of principles, that actually resonated most with me: ultimately, as a leader, you have to love people and care about people. You need to be there and support them in life and in business. In return, people will take care of you and go above and beyond the call of duty.

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May 2, 2014

Be Careful You Do Not Become the Company Spokesperson

A reporter called and started asking questions. I knew the answers and was well into giving information on behalf of the client when it hit me: I’m not authorized to be this company’s spokesperson!

Media Relations

As a communications consultant for this client I was empowered to provide information – send out pre-authorized backgrounders, fact sheets, news releases. But I was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. I stopped in mid-sentence.

“I’m not a spokesperson for my client so I don’t want to be quoted,” I said, probably too sharply. I caught the reporter cold. He was taking down everything I said and fully intended to pepper his story with Alyn “Edwards said…. According to company spokesperson Alyn Edwards…”

It was almost too late that I realized I had set a trap for myself and I was right in it. I knew better.

During the hundreds of media training sessions I have conducted, I stress that companies must appoint and train anyone speaking for the organization and they should only offer information in areas of their direct knowledge and responsibilities.

I also tell them to negotiate every interview. When reporters call, don’t start answering questions until you know exactly who you are talking to, how to contact them and have asked these other key questions:

  • What is your story?
  • What information do you want from our organization?
  • Is there a focus or angle that you are pursuing?
  • Who else are you talking to?
  • What questions do you have?

Only with full information should a company or organization decide that an interview will suit its goals and interests. That’s not always the case.

Several years ago, a call came in from a meat processor in the Vancouver area. It was during the XL Meat e-coli crisis in Brooks, Alberta. The B.C. company was not related in anyway. But it was receiving calls from reporters wanting ‘localize’ the story. They asked to take video and photos of their plant operation and interview managers about food safety.

My strong advice was to thank reporters for their interest, tell them the plant is in full compliance with all food safety standards and explain that no unauthorized persons can enter the plant.

I recommended the company not say anything beyond this because, as soon as the public saw pictures or video of that meat packing operation, the company would be immediately associated with the e-coli outbreak and its business could suffer greatly.

If the interview is a good fit for your organization, negotiate a time and place for the interview which gives the spokesperson adequate time to prepare key messages.

Sending a fact sheet or background information in advance of the interview describing the organization, its products and services along with information detailing the subject of the interview could head off up to 30 minutes of needless questions. That also helps ensure accurate reporting.

That’s what communications consultants can deliver while being careful not to unwittingly become a spokesperson for their clients.

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