Thursday, March 23, 2006

As Desmond Tutu said to me.....

I had an e-mail from Archbishop Desmond Tutu today - okay, it came from his PA - but it's not every day (no, correct that, it's not any day) that I get an e-mail from one of the best-known and most respected figures in the world.

So why was the Archbishop writing to me?

Well, I've been conducting a number of focus groups in businesses recently where one of the issues covered has been: 'Who do you look up to as a communicator and why?'

Not entirely surprisingly, almost no-one has pointed to an exec in their own business, and while the likes of Gates, Branson and Sugar have all been mentioned in passing, very few people have pointed to business people as engaging communicators.

Now that began to get me thinking.....

Huge generalisation as I'm sure this is, as communicators, our business leaders are a pretty insipid bunch. If you're looking for credible orators who really inspire those around them, walking the talk and living up to their articulated business culture, you probably won't look deeply into Britain's boardrooms. My take is that we're in the age of the MBA-as-CEO. The '90s and '00s have brought the finance directors ever more into commerce and industry's top seats. Unlike the owner/managers of the past, or the entrepreneurs who built the business from its bootstrings and lived and breathed the making of widgets, today's execs are portable, transferring their skills from boardroom to boardroom and rarely having any experience of life close to the product or service the peddle.

It can be hard for us as communicators to make the suits even consciously effective as champions of their business. So where can we look for the naturals? Who are the communicators who instinctively know what to say, know when to listen and know how to get the right response from their audiences? My recent interviewing has thrown up all sorts of names beyond our traditional business communicators. My list ranges from Will Carling and Lawrence Dallaglio in rugby (no football names mentioned), through Tony Blair, Bill Clinton (but not George Dubya), Archbishop Tutu (plus the new Archbishop of York) and Cardinal Cormac-McCarthy to John Humphries, Robert Elms and Davina McCall as communicators that people sit up and listen to.

But 30-odd interviews where this was one of several areas covered mean I'm only scratching the surface here. Who are those beyond the boardroom that we instinctively tune to? Who are the people we see as credible, honest and informed; the people our business leaders need to be taking a tip or two from?

I decided I'd like to explore this idea of the lessons we can learn from these instinctive communicators. I'm not sure to what end yet, be it an article, a training piece or whatever.

So, I've started writing to the people who've been suggested to date. Two have replied so far - Clinton (or Clinton's people at his New York foundation) to say he unfortunately has no space in his schedule to address my questions, and the Archbishop.

So, what are the secrets of the Archbishop's success as one of the world's most engaging and respected communicators?

Well, this is what he said: "I have no answer to your questions. I simply get out there and do what I feel called to do."

That, in itself is a pretty darned good answer to me. Perhaps in business communication there's too much image making and not enough natural honesty.......And it probably helps to have your God on your side!

I'm still looking for credible, consistent, engaging, natural and instinctive communicators to contact. Who should I be dropping an e-mail to?

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