Once again, my fellow communication coaches Decker Communications have published a “10 best and worst communicators for 2011,” and the list is fascinating both for those it includes and those it doesn’t, as well as what it says about us and where we are as a nation. Most of the 10 worst are there because they deceived the public in some way, or broke trust with their constituents. Most of the 10 best are there because they are perceived to be authentic, and valuable, members of society.
So I celebrate 7 of Decker’s top 10: Steve Jobs (of course), Howard Schultz (OK), Chris Anderson (of TED, absolutely), Virginia Rometty (sure), Lady Gaga (why not?), Warren Buffet (please, no scandal), and Christine Lagarde (what a relief). But what about Hillary Clinton, who has done a consistently solid and forthright job as Secretary of State – always a nearly impossible assignment? Or Jon Stewart, who has single-handedly kept the liberal point of view alive and funny?
And I join with Decker in throwing gratuitous mud at 9 of the 10 worst: Anthony Weiner (of course), Bryan Harrison and Bill Stover of Solyndra (sure), Charlie Sheen (no question), the Murdochs (yes), Rick Perry (certainly), Brian Moynihan (OK), Greg Mortenson (sadly), the Commissioners (of the NBA, NFL, and MLB, yup), and Leo Apotheker (OK). But what about Herman Cain, who taught us anew that deception and stonewalling don’t work, ever? Or Mitt Romney, who has yet to give us an authentic moment on the campaign trail? Or Newt Gingrich, who is a brilliant communicator, but doesn’t know when to stop?
What’s more interesting to me is what the list tells us about ourselves and our concerns. So, without further ado, are Morgan’s Reflections on the Best and Worst Lists of 2011.
It’s a time for authenticity, even if it’s angry authenticity. When will our leaders learn that faking it just doesn’t cut it any more? It’s obvious, of course, in the political world, where political futures get decided in a heartbeat because the politician in question fails to be authentic when it counts. But it’s also clear in the business world, where authenticity has a clear and powerful effect on the proverbial bottom line – for good, with someone like Steve Jobs, or for ill, with someone like Leo Apotheker. That's why I wrote about authenticity in Trust Me — it's real, and real important.
Transparency is the only option. Get used to it. Of course, we communication professionals have been saying it forever, but leaders continue to stonewall in the face of accusations of every conceivable kind. If Dominique Strauss-Kahn didn’t seal the deal, Herman Cain must have done. Someone saw. Someone remembers. Someone has already posted it on YouTube, for heaven’s sake. Come clean!
You get one chance to make an impression. Once again, this is even more true now, thanks to the attention deficit we all operate under. We’ll give you one shot, if you have a fascinating story to tell, but don’t expect us to take the time to listen to a second one. Once your “narrative” is established in the public mind, it’s all the labors of Hercules combined to shift that narrative. Herman Cain is now and forever the womanizer. Rick Perry is now and forever the brain freeze guy. And so on.
Sex and violence still sell. It’s difficult to overstate how base, and how polarized, our public discourse has become. We pay attention to the Republicans for their tawdry scandals and accusations. We vent our fury at President Obama for not single-handedly improving the economy, when that’s really up to the thousands of business decisions made by us and our business leaders every day. And we miss, therefore, the hundreds of heroes that daily do wonderful work, help people everywhere, and change the world for the better.
The really interesting communications are going on outside the US. While we’re busy whining about the economy and our political leaders’ embarrassing missteps and inability to get along, the rest of the world is forging ahead in some wonderful and terrifying ways. Aung San Suu Kyi, The Arab Spring, Gaddafi, Putin and the decline of Russia, Angela Merkel, and the indefatigable Sarkozy, David Cameron, the British Pillsbury Doughboy – the real communication excitement, both good and bad, wasn’t here in the US in 2011, it was elsewhere in the world. We’d better stop complaining and start doing once again what we do best – invention, optimism, and open-handedness.
Here’s to a communications recovery in 2012!