Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

The business of improving leadership and communication

WallyHow horrified were you these past few weeks as members of Congress huddled in cliques to avoid their self-imposed ‘fiscal cliff’? 

One thing I noticed about our elected officials: No one was wearing a shirt that states, “Plays nice with others.”

That’s because they don’t play nice. Their communication skills, manners, leadership, and basic common sense stand to be scrutinized. A frustrated electorate watched in disgust as our busy and ineffective representatives who have taken an oath of serving the public managed to give themselves pay raises. The days were passing, the media pundits were yapping, the fiscal cliff was looming, and suddenly all the clocks on Capitol Hill had stopped.

Where was the trainer who was supposed to provide a presentation on time management? Didn’t Congress get the memo? How could such an important issue have been pushed off to the last few hours of 2012?   

This is not about political parties. This post is about the core of communication and leadership. It’s about a political system that needs to be run like a business.   

The definition of scary

Existing in the imaginary world of the Beltway has clearly taken a toll on the players and processes. There are many politicians who have had brilliant business experiences outside of DC. Until our government can begin to operate like a business, and not an inefficient, bloated bureaucracy stuffed with people masquerading as leaders, the American people are screwed.  Are these public servants really serving us? Or are they too caught up in their own egos, power struggles, and hidden agendas? 

Could a business treat its customers like this and be successful? No way.

Back to basics

I’ve been writing extensively about interpersonal communication and leadership. My new book, The Badass Book of Social Media and Business Communication offers numerous sections that can serve as a primer for our politicians.

Let’s look at a few key areas in which our representatives, including President Obama, have failed miserably. And let us understand that if our elected officials pulled any of this nonsense in private business, they would be unemployed.  If the government could get out of its own way and operate on basic business values, we would all be better off.

Interpersonal skills: Getting stuck in problems is not an option. Strong leaders envision positive and amicable outcomes before the negotiations begin. They are adept at finding similarities instead of focusing on differences. They are masters at conflict resolution.

Time management: True leaders plan their work and don’t scramble at the 11th hour to reach an agreement or resolve an important issue. Cramming may work for college students but has no place in business. Leaders also don’t get backed into a corner of “we’re on holiday break.” They understand the importance of the task at hand and work until it’s completed. No exceptions. No excuses. I have to believe Congress and President Obama knew that Christmas and New Year’s were on the calendar.   

Communicating with empathy:  The Arbinger Institute is a global business leadership and training company. They describe people with poor communication skills as “in the box.” These folks are isolated and treat others as objects, not as human beings with feelings and emotions. Leaders who are “inside the box” behave as if they are better than others. They lack emotional intelligence.

When people are “outside the box”, they show compassion and care for their fellow humans. If two people in a conversation are both “in the box”, there’s little room for progress, negotiation, and positive outcomes. The following example in Arbinger’s Leadership and Self-Deception will resonate with you:  

You’re sitting on a crowded bus and the seat next to you is empty. Do you put your bag on it and hide behind your newspaper hoping no one will squeeze in? We’ve all been on both sides of this situation—the one who is seated and “in the box”, and the stressed passenger desperately searching for a place to sit down. If the seated passenger was “out the box”, he would make eye contact and smile at someone, silently sending a welcome signal to take the open seat.

The 113th Congressional session is underway.  “Business as usual” on Capitol Hill is a frightening thought.


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