Aug 13

Stakeholders Respond, Rely on Our Words

Bruce Harrison

In the CCO’s world of words, the impact on stakeholders is the test. What can the corporate communicator do to cut through all the other conversations, to caution or to reassure?

Stirring this blog is a combination of teachers: a teacher combination of Alan Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve Bank for nearly 20 years, and a New Yorker Financial Page contributor James Surowiecki (“Bankers Gone Wild,” July 30, 2012). Assessing current financial chaos, Surowiecki recalls a 1999 comment from the former Fed chairman:  “In virtually all transactions we rely on the word of those with whom we do business.”

Greenspan was exceptional at connecting with listeners. He used two strong devices. One was artful phrasing that provoked a listener to think. The other was to state a simple fact, a point that required no thinking; it merely, strategically reinforced a truth. We all recall his famous use of the first device. Greenspan described a bullish Wall Street view on a matter of national financial significance as “irrational exuberance.” The media delighted in adding to the financial lexicon a quirky, quotable and thereby memorable description of a condition that may or may not prove to be realizable—or, in fact, true. Greenspan, master communicator, stopped the presses (more of those in those days) and the enterprise heightened its leadership perspective.

New Yorker’s Surowiecki provides an example of plain-talk Greenspanism: While a fired-up phrase (“irrational exuberance”) stirs listener rethinking, a calm restatement of principle (“transactions…rely on the word of those with whom we do business”) requires little thought. It is accepted as truth as soon as it is heard. It is a verity.

This article seems to me a good reminder about the strategic, appropriate impact of words and principles in leadership communication. By their words, CEOs can stir stakeholder rethinking (questions) and as well as relaxed reliance. By their works, CCOs must lead toward both, with emphasis on the principle of verity and source reliability.

E. Bruce Harrison
EnviroComm International

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