Your Career and You: “Helping Leaders Learn”


Publication1I dropped in on a tweetchat a few nights ago where the topic was helping your organization’s leaders understand the value…and the perils…of social media. Lots of lively discussion about an often downplayed aspect of today’s communication world.

This is an area that we, as the communication professionals responsible for what comes out of our organization’s “mouth,” are still sorting out.

I try to help my PR Concentration students at Curry College understand the importance of this role…its perils and pitfalls as well as its potential…and, sadly, there are more than enough examples on a daily basis to back up my words.

The first, (seemingly) logical assumption about a leader is that “he/she is responsible for running the company; he/she understands the importance of accurate, professional, intelligent communication.” As we have seen time and again, though, this isn’t necessarily so.

What’s that, Mr. Trump? Oh, yeah…sorry….

The reality is that many of these folks, brilliant leaders though they may be, don’t fully understand the power of social. And this is where we, savvy communicators that we are, add value.

As we were merrily tweeting about helping leaders learn about social media, I was reminded of a “learning opportunity” I experienced a bazillion years ago…before computers…that has served as my guide ever since (40 years and counting).

I was in the Air Force…enlisted…working the last six years of my service as an audiovisual media specialist running multimedia briefings for a couple of Air Force command groups…16mm movies, 35mm slides, vu-graph presentations…stuff you read about in “the history of communication”!

At one command, I had a multi-slide vu-graph presentation in which many of the slides had multiple overlays, each of which was “flipped” individually to “build” a story on that particular slide.

The slides were constructed for presentation in a scenario where the projector was in front of the screen; each overlay could be flipped smoothly and quickly for a visually seamless show.

BUT…I also was responsible for presentations in another location in which the projection was rear screen…projector behind the screen.

The problem? In that location, the slides had to be placed on the projector upside down, meaning that each slide was literally sitting on top of its overlays. Absolutely no way to smoothly transition each overlay for that slide. Simply. Could. Not. Be. Done.

So…we’re practicing for an upcoming major-league presentation in the rear-screen auditorium and the “slide-flipping” isn’t going smoothly for all the reasons listed.

The officer (remember, I was “enlisted,” not the “leader”!) on stage giving the briefing could not understand why the slides worked so perfectly in the other location but not here. After all, he was a professional communicator. In his mind, I was inept.

The colonel loses it and yells at the sergeant (me), “Why can’t you do this like you do it in the other auditorium?”

The sergeant (me) loses it and yells at the colonel: “You come back here and flip the slides. I’ll be you at the podium.”

(Exchange of irritated glares and mutual stomping of feet as we exchange places follows.)

And we proceed…

Two slides into the presentation…the colonel comes out of the projection room with a sheepish look on his face… “I see what you mean.”

(Now I hasten to say, for those of you who know anything about military protocol, that my seeming insubordination was for private consumption…we were alone. Neither of us would have behaved that way in public. We were professionals who respected each other’s abilities and were willing to discuss problems openly and honestly…in private.)

The takeaway here is two-fold:
> Professional Competence…The colonel was good at his job…I was good at mine. We both understood that.
> Learning Opportunity…I knew that, while the colonel didn’t understand the nuances of how our briefing physically worked…he was the face in front of the crowd, I could show him. So I did.

Finally…to answer the unasked question: “How did we resolve this problem?”

Duh…two sets of slides…one for front-screen projection, one for rear-screen. We simply had never encountered this situation before so hadn’t thought about the need for two sets!

Leaders like to be in control…that’s why they’re leaders. They don’t like surprises; they don’t like the unknown. Social media is still, for many, a huge “unknown.” Our job as their communication professional is to help them understand the unknown and how it can help…or harm…their success.

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About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 10 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
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