You heard about the married politician caught trysting with his girlfriend in Argentina. On the day he was caught returning from his fun in the sun, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford held a hasty, free association press conference at the statehouse to drop the bomb.
Three words for you, Governor Sanford: Less is more.
His rambling admission of guilt was devastatingly wordy and bizarre. He dithered on about his love of hiking. He blathered about “sparking” with his “dear, dear friend” in Buenos Aires. At last, he meandered into a confession. After finally admitting to philandering, the governor presented his priorities wrong. He tearfully apologized for hurting his girlfriend before he expressed regret that his shameful behavior had damaged his wife and sons, and that he’d done the citizens of South Carolina wrong during his six-day disappearing act.
The governor showed us how not to meet the press.
As a leader, Sanford’s wordy discourse was far too long and misdirected. He needed to talk less and say more.
I hope you’ll never experience a moment of truth quite like this one in your career. However, as a leader you will be called upon to influence the thoughts and actions of others. Here are a few tips to help you influence intentionally:
- Don’t confuse talking with influencing. Most leaders think influence means showing up and giving a speech. They want to look good, sound intelligent, and come across as well as possible. However, the real goal of influence is to move people to commit to action. That means touching hearts and minds, not merely talking your way out of (or into) something.
- Don’t shoot for a quick fix. It’s not the short game that matters – it’s the long game. The Governor will learn this over the coming months as he’s judged by his constituents, citizens and family. A hastily arranged press conference (or meeting) solves nothing. When attendees are caught off guard, they can’t fully process the information you dump on them, which means that you’ve merely delayed the final outcome.
- Move people in the direction you desire. Communicate with purpose. Not just because you believe that a communication of some sorts is called for. The Governor was too quick on the trigger to address the media. His goal should have been to get the story out of the news, not to get tongues wagging and create even more drama.
- Cut the distractions. Did you see the young faces behind the governor as he spoke? They were smiling broadly as he choked up. How weird. Be aware of your surroundings during leadership communications – or make sure that someone else is watching out for you.
- Keep it brief and simple. The key to communication in the 21st century is brevity. Attention spans are collapsing. Demands on time are increasing. Master the complex business of simplicity. If you blather on, you risk losing people’s attention…and their respect.
Sanford’s Wall Street wife was far more succinct. Her statements to the press have been pithy, if a bit understandably passive-aggressive. So far, she’s winning the oh-so-polite war of words for public support.
Leadership communication is about aligning people to influence their thoughts and actions. I encourage you to be purposeful about communicating with influence. Take time to distill your message instead of being long-winded. In today’s world, saying less is truly more.