We are all constantly assaulted by messages imploring us to take action – mostly to buy products we don’t really need.
Increasingly, companies rely upon data mining to build up a picture of who we are, what we like and therefore what we’re likely to buy.
The commercial approach to selling products is probably the most complex area of public life. And notwithstanding our current fear for the future and its depressing impact on our propensity to buy, it works.
Look closely at any major company’s sales strategy and you will find absolute clarity: they know their market; they are clear about their message; they create a value proposition; and they follow through relentlessly.
Selling stuff as much a war of attrition as it is a charm offensive.
Could the same be said of your leadership message?
Are you clear about what you are selling? Do you have a clear message for your organisation? Is it the same every time you speak or do you vary it for no clear reason?
Are you clear about whom you are talking to? Have you gathered in all the key information – who they are, what they like, what they hate, how they see you, whether they believe you, whether they trust you? Do you know how they see the world, how they frame every day life?
Have you got their attention? Do you know much many seconds people will give you and listen attentively to your message? Do you know what kind of information attracts and keeps their attention?
What media are you using? Do you rely on email and Powerpoint presentations (to reflect on the problems of this presentation device see Edward Tufte)? Do you use passing remarks? Do you have a stock of anecdotes that support your overall message? Do you have a blog? Do you write a regular briefing?
What about face to face? Are you out and about meeting people, engaging them, talking to them about their fears, concerns and hopes? Are you reassuring? Are you warm? Charismatic? Interesting? Or worse: boring, stultifying, damaging?
Or do you spend all of your life in your office, infrequently venturing as far as nearby committee rooms?
What about the impact? Would anyone know what your message is? Your leadership team? Senior leaders? Middle managers? Anyone further down? And how do they feel after you have spoken to them? Do you know? What do you measure, if anything?
Do you have a source of honest information about how you come across? Or are people frightened to speak truth to power?
There’s never been a greater need for clarity from public sector leaders. Leaders can inspire, motivate as readily as they can create fear and trepidation.
Knowing who you are and what you are selling to whom with what outcome in mind is critical if you are going to use your leadership to positively drive change at a time of massive uncertainty.