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Chuck The Politics of CRM

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By Chuck Schaeffer

Political Lessons in Strategies and Tactics of Communication Styles and Mediums

David Gergen was the keynote speaker at this week's 2011 CRM Evolution conference. His presentation was titled Responding to the Voice of the Constituent/Customer, a topic for which he brings a unique perspective due in large part to his front row seat at some of our nation's major historical events. For reference, David has been an Advisor to four U.S. Presidents and is the Senior Political Analyst for CNN. And by coincidence, David wrote the actual Presidential resignation letter for Richard Nixon, 37 years to the day of his CRM Evolution keynote.

David leveraged the Nixon resignation anniversary to demonstrate hallmarks of leadership, and then compare and contrast communication styles and mediums used by political and corporate leaders.

His starting point was to suggest that a leader is someone who mobilizes others in the pursuit of shared goals. Simple enough, although arguably unfinished, a fair assertion. He was articulate in how leadership has evolved from force and coercion to persuasion and trust—and how applying these later principals to new communication channels is necessary to actually achieve objectives.

To start his political analogies, he referenced Nixon, who was regarded by most scholars as a very smart man with a unique capability to predict the future, and implement actions that would bend future events toward the benefit of the country. He saw the rising power—and threat—of China before others, documented China's certain ascension in Foreign Affairs, sent Henry Kissinger to China for clandestine meetings with Chinese officials before his presidency and completed a ground breaking visit to China in 1972. All of this to bend relations, and future power, toward the benefit of the U.S.

While successful in advancing the China relationship, Nixon's communication style failed to achieve traits proven necessary from history. He was a person who did not easily trust, and was not trusted. He held anger, resentment and was sometimes paranoid, although as Gergen points out, especially in politics, even paranoids have real enemies. He clearly believed politics was the law of the jungle—either you eat or get eaten. Despite his foreign policy advances, he ultimately broke the bonds of trust with his constituents, and lost his communication effectiveness, long before his resignation.

Compare Nixon's leadership to Winston Churchill, who built trust, inspired faith, demonstrated transparency, was not above it all, listened to the people and shared in the peoples' misery. In fact great leaders from Henry V of England to Gandhi to Lincoln to current era Ronald Reagan have all shared a communication style that began by integrating themselves with their constituents, engaging in intense listening to the people, finding the sentiment behind the words and using the peoples words to give voice to the peoples' dreams. This is the communication style that has proven consistently true throughout the ages.

However, while key communication styles have held constant, communication mediums are in constant evolution. And only those leaders that can master the communication channels of their times achieve their leadership objectives. From the earliest days of Greek politicians practicing rhetoric from Athens hilltops, to Teddy Roosevelt mastering newspaper copy via close journalist relationships, to FDR exploiting radio with his fireside chats to John F. Kennedy narrowly winning an election based in large part on his television persona during the final debate, these are leaders that mastered their communication mediums.

In our current era, it was Barack Obama who capitalized on the Internet communication channel, astutely noting that the Web does three things—mobilizes people, delivers messaging and raises money. However, theorists and journalists such as Malcolm Gladwell have pointed out that while social media is an expansive channel, it only creates 'light attachments'. Constituents and customers will engage for the easy stuff, but not heavy lifting. Something found true by Obama as he got people to vote, but has been unable to get even small volumes of people to work on programs.

Nonetheless, the channel itself is clear and the political analogies from Gergen are easily transferable to the private sector. Whether public or private, leaders and communicators must begin with a communication strategy, achieve the hallmarks of proven communication styles, and adjust tactics—particularly communication mediums—quickly if they are to successfully engage their constituents or customers. End

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Gergen's political communications lessons are easily transferable to the private sector. Whether public or private, leaders and communicators must begin with a communication strategy, achieve the hallmarks of proven communication styles, and adjust tactics, particularly communication mediums, quickly.


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