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THE 12 ESSENTIAL TALENTS OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS LEADERSHIP…AND OTHER LESSONS LEARNED FROM HARRY POTTER
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We’re all familiar with the old brain-teaser: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
A question that’s much easier to answer – and more relevant to effective leadership practices – is: “If an employee offers an idea, and no one pays attention, does the employee stop participating?”
In most cases, the answer is a definite yes. Ignore a staffer’s input, and he or she will feel put out, turned off, alienated, and discouraged from offering suggestions in the future.
It’s no surprise that one of the biggest challenges to leadership today – perhaps the biggest – is that of employee disengagement…staff members feeling they are not being heard, a feeling they translate into not being valued and ultimately not part of the creative team. So they tune out and stifle themselves from offering potentially valuable contributions in the future.
It’s not much different from the man who complains to his psychiatrist, “Doctor, everyone ignores me.”
The doctor responds: “Next.”
The opposite side of the disengagement coin is that, at some of the nation’s most successful public relations firms, employees at all levels are inspired to present ideas, no matter how far out of the proverbial box, and encouraged to question ideas of top management. And their challenges of these ideas are not only tolerated but even applauded.
When I was publicity director of the Scholastic team spearheading the publicity campaign for the Harry Potter book series, we all knew our mission and were committed to it. But at the same time, we welcomed the questions from everyone on the team, even when they reflected healthy skepticism.
Like the best elements of brainstorming, everyone was encouraged to present free-flowing ideas, confident there’d be no snap judgment articulated, no scoffing or rolling eyes or turned-up noses. Everyone’s idea was listened to, encouraged, and amplified. And as a result, we were all strengthened with everyone feeling he or she had shared in moving the team and its mission forward.
Some team leaders need to remember that it doesn’t diminish the boss’s luster to have an idea from a lower-level employee implemented. In fact, it rebounds favorably. Part of leadership is identifying and implementing good ideas, whatever or whoever the source.
An employee’s willingness to present possibly controversial ideas or to challenge those of higher-ups emerges only in a company culture that encourages it. That culture develops only when the leader is willing to identify employees’ hidden assets and potential and helps develop those qualities. The results: greater individual contribution and professional growth.
Leaders who understand this welcome employees who think differently from themselves. Rather than clone themselves, they don’t limit those they hire to “yes-men or -women.” Rather, they seek out even “no-people,” individuals who aren’t negative for the sake of it, but rather who aren’t intimidated about pointing out flaws in the boss’s thinking or who will sometimes take a contrary position, a la devil’s advocate.
A good balance to strive for: while demonstrating he or she is in charge, the boss realizes the possibility of being wrong, and thereby demonstrates an open-mindedness that encourages risk-taking for the ultimate good of the team.
Beyond this, forward-thinking bosses maintain an open-door policy, literally and figuratively, encouraging employees to share not only professional but personal matters as well. This means being a good, attentive listener, an often forgotten component of good communication, whether with an employee or a client.
You may have read recently of the first wedding to take place in space. When the capsule came back to earth, reporters hurried to interview family members. One reporter cornered the groom’s grandmother.
“How was the wedding?” he asked.
“Beautiful,” she said.
The reporter said, “All your answers are positive, but there’s something in your tone that suggests everything wasn’t ideal.”
“Well,” said the grandmother, “to tell you the truth, there was no atmosphere.”
Yes, atmosphere matters. We’re in a serious business, but that doesn’t mean the environment has to be solemn. A wise leader put a premium on fun, light-hearted moments that help foster camaraderie and provide a pleasant cushion for the inevitable long hours and hard work.
They can also reflect the positive – contagious – energy that filters down from top to bottom in a thriving company, one where employees feel engaged and connected.
The plus factors are numerous, not the least of which is what a current Employment Engagement report by Blessing White (http://ow.ly/3vT4h) has found: engaged employees plan to stay at their firms for what they give; disengaged stay for what they get.
The company’s survey also found that “executives appear to struggle with key leadership behaviors, especially what’s required to create a high-performance culture.” It also points out that managers have to understand each individual’s talents, interests and needs, and then match those with the organization’s objectives…while creating personal trusting relationships.
Blessing White emphasizes the importance of leadership focusing on engagement, “creating the dialogue, stirring up participation and driving people to focused, purposeful action.”
It urges the adoption of a “coach approach” as a means of transferring disengagement into “high-energy buy-in motivated employees and strong results.” By focusing on “what is working” and the strengths and individual needs of employees, the report contends, the odds of success are increased. The report notes that recognizing that each individual is motivated differently (seldom by money), will help create opportunities that mesh with individual needs.
The company strongly recommends self-evaluation to determine how open a leader is to engaging in a dialogue even with someone with a contradictory perspective, without feeling the need to prove anything about the leader’s point of view…and flexible enough to accept and implement someone else’s better idea.
All these goals are attainable, starting with listening – really listening – to that employee offering a potentially super idea.
Alan Cohen, president of Acts of Balance Executive Coaching (http://www.actsofbalance.com/) and a PRSA Counselors Academy member, is an executive coach, trainer and brainstorm facilitator with more than 25 years of experience in business, including public relations and human resources.
Download a free copy of “The 12 Essential Talents of PR Leadership” at http://ow.ly/3vT7d