A client had a well earned win last week, featuring prominently and positively in a story in the Australian Financial Review that had a front page lead. But getting there was no accident. Rather it was the result of a sure and steady effort to develop a public communication capability in order to contribute to industry commentary and demonstrate their expertise. Critically, that means not being afraid to take a position on an issue.
'Thought leadership' is a management term rarely deserved by many who claim it. Too often executives pull-back from, or over qualify, a statement that in a bolder form might spark some genuine interest or open a new debate. What are they afraid of?
In their social lives the same executives are rarely shrinking violets. At a dinner party I bet they would much more freely engage in the theatre of lively debate. In their social lives they understand that they are always rehearsing to be the people they want to be and their public persona generally presents them at their best. We all do this.
It is what the sociologist Erving Goffman described as 'front region' and 'back region' behaviour. His analogy was a restaurant. On the dining room floor the waiter or waitress was at their confident, impressive best. Yet when they are back in the kitchen there is often chaos, confusion, waste, rework, possibly anxiety and self-loathing too.
What makes it all work is that since I am rehearsing I accept that others are too, and vice versa. And, most importantly, we accept that the theatre one displays in their front region behaviour is genuinely illustrative of the person they are trying to become. Generally we admire this and so a social contract exists which allows us all to develop our public identity in this way.
The same is true for brands and companies. So I always say to clients that it is okay to be a little larger than life. To be confident and impressive, to say something memorable. As individuals we expect it. We want to see what you are aspiring to be and we will generally support your aspirations.
Being bold, being confident and being salient is nothing more than expressing your company or brand personality at its best. Your confident, impressive best is not just what we want to see, it is expected and we are disappointed with anything less.