PR leadership

I have been thinking about the change in the PR industry and leadership aspect of maintaining teams in this fast-changing industry. A lot of the issues are commercial and structural, which means that we may want to throw our hands up and say what can we do?

As Stuart Bruce of Wolfstar rightly pointed out in one of his comments on one of my earlier posts: Love the car analogy, but it doesn’t help us get to the ‘solution’. As part of the solution, what at least some of us can do is think about how we move from managing people to leading people in a way that they will want to follow us.

You may be line-managing people, but how are you leading them?

I was really fortunate that I started my career as a junior team member involved in plant process operation in the petrochemical industry along the Mersey basin. It was hard, unpleasant, hazardous work; with an environment that was misogynistic in nature and didn’t tolerate failure.

But I learned more about life and work in that short time than any other and I worked with people who where inspirational.

What do I mean by inspirational, since it seems to be an overused concept now?

I don’t mean that they gave good PowerPoint; but that you wanted to follow in their work boots. I also knew that if I got lit up like a roman candle, or was getting boiled alive with a burst steam line  my gaffer would be there trying to put me out.

This video by Stanley McChrystal says it more succinctly and elegantly than I can

It’s about:

  • Believing in the best of your people in terms of integrity and work ethic, but not taking it for granted. If they don’t measure up to that, they are the wrong people
  • Listening: some things aren’t in books, or trend reports, or the FT and certainly not The Economist
  • Building consensus; as a leader you may not have all the answers
  • Being transparent as a leader
  • Realising that commitment is a two-way street; as an industry we are very good at demanding what we want from people. But the flip-side of this is that they need to know that you have their back. That you will move heaven-and-earth (or even work hours) if you have to. It is about taking the ‘self’ out the equation (apologies if I am sounding very Zen at the moment). I once asked to take a pay cut to help finance better pay for a junior team member that I worked with – the resources to give them what they needed suddenly became available. If you are not prepared to go to the line; either you are not the leader they deserve (either through a failure of imagination or integrity); or there was a failure in the HR process that let the wrong type of people into your organisation. Ultimately; if you are established in your role, the buck stops with you in either scenario
  • Allowing people to fail, without them feeling like a failure; which is key for their learning especially since there are so many different ways of doing things now in PR; often we are so focused on client service that we can lose sight of this.  And when your team members are ready to move on to other things or places with their career; this is when they will most need you to be gracious and provide assistance. This isn’t the end, its about fostering a long term relationship that is likely to pay dividends in the long run