Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Leader's Message

Carl M. Freeman was a great man and a great leader.  I was fortunate to work for and learn from him and his son Josh - another great man and leader.  Carl Freeman was old school. He taught principles to his team. One of his communication rules was, 'think before you speak and act'.  He would follow up his reminder with a question - 'if this story was on the front page of Washington Post tomorrow, how would you feel?  How would I feel? How would your family feel?'  It was a seed thought to help us measure the impact of our words and actions to understand the consequences if the whole world could see. 

Twenty years later - the whole world is aware of everything a leader says or does in seconds.  Global connectivity creates great possibilities for viral messaging - good and bad.  The consequences for poor communications from leaders has never been greater or has a greater impact.  The revolution in Egypt was fueled by the Internet and accelerated by poor communications from a corrupt regime.  In America, we watch our leaders make daily statements, retractions, and clarifications that leave me wondering - what do they really think?  That can't be good.

Leaders need to be focused on their intentions.  As a leader, you are accountable for all that is caused by your words and actions. The expectation of instantaneous communication is squeezing our ability to calculate the impact of our communications - both the intended and unintended consequences we put in motion.   You must be aware of the situation and attentive to the reactions to your message - take a second, a minute, an hour, sleep on it if that's what it takes for you to consider the total impact of your message to ensure your intended results. Be thoughtful and be effective.

Carl Freeman taught me to consider the message, messenger, and timing before I opened my mouth.  (Today that would also probably include e-mail, tweet, text, and blog.)  We should all try to practice his timeless advice.

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