"The most significant threat to our national security is our debt," Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 27,2010

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Leadership Series: Know Your Audience

Scenario #1. A speech to the NAACP. Now if you are the current president you know before you even open your mouth that you could recite the words of a super bowl commercial praising the city of Detroit and you would get nothing but standing ovations. Let’s face it; this is not going to be a tough audience. So what should the tenor of your speech be? Well, it probably will be a series of self directed accolades describing and praising all the good things that you have and are doing for constituencies of the audience members. Why not? That’s what they came to hear. You may as well give it to ‘em. And everyone will feel really good afterwards. Kind of a hook up scene only with the emphasis on the foreplay; not the main event. The taxpayer, who is not overly represented in this audience, gets a figuratively royal version of that piece de rĂ©sistance (main event) in mid April.

Scenario #2. A speech to the chamber of commerce. Now before you even open your mouth, if you are the current president, you know this is not going to be a rousing speech unless your #1 aide de camp managed to switch the entire speech with one written by a fellow from the Heritage Foundation and you go ahead and give it anyway. More than likely your voter support from this audience reflects the results of the most recent election in the US House of Representatives. So, what do you do? Do you give them a spanking speech (not in the rousing sense of the word) reminding them of their responsibilities as good citizens and good business men hording lots of cash. The old “spend, spend, spend” mantra. Or do you come up with something else? Do you put yourself in their shoes even though you have never even walked a baby step in their shoes? Do you tell your audience that you have never done what they do but you want to learn? Or do you try to pretend that you can “feel their pain?”

Click on here, watch the speech and see what he did -- http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/02/07/president-obama-business-now-time-invest-america

There still are some rules for knowing your objective; understanding your audience and increasing the likelihood of success. And that is what this essay is about.

Business men are not all fools. They live in worlds occupied by other businessmen, known to them as competitors, and very important people known as customers. They also operate in environments where they deal with matters such as: product or service quality, employee training, financial solvency, meeting payrolls, time deadlines and lots of other details that are either done right or can turn into costly redoes and missed orders and unhappy employees and customers. That is the world of the businessman. That is not necessarily the way their world is seen by politicians, bureaucrats and community organizers.

So, the first thing you might wish to determine is: do you know what is on the collective minds(s) of your audience? Or do you presume to know and make your speech based on such presumptions?

Next do you approach your audience in scenario #2 by telling them what you want them to hear and what you want them to do or do you modify your speech by incorporating the lessons you’ve learned about them and their problems and their issues, some of which are described in the above paragraph? Of do you just come clean with them and say you have nary a clue about what their world is like and you don’t really intend to spend much time learning about it but let’s all be good Americans and work together to accomplish my good agenda (spend, spend, spend) for America?

What do you want from them? Jobs? Investments? Exports? Taxes? Less energy usage? More votes? A nice-nice relationship? Perhaps all of the above? Well regardless of what you want from them, it is probably not a good idea to spend two years bemoaning their selfishness; their pay scales; their bonuses; their efficiency programs and then suddenly, upon deciding that you need something from them, expecting that you don’t have to give them a few of the things they want as they describe those wants and not as you and your associates describe those wants. As Homer would say, “D’oh!”

Knowing your audience takes a bit of time; a bit of energy; and a bit of a commitment to grasping the fundamental that we don’t all see everything the way the temporary leader sees it. And, perhaps, there is something to someone else’s point of view.

We had eight years of a president who didn’t grasp this fundamental. He and his failed chums left a big mess behind. The current leader grasps that part of the scenario. But, alas, he and his failed chums do not grasp the part about the mess that they are leaving behind. Both are cluelessly delusional about their shortcomings.

It doesn’t matter if you are addressing the chamber of commerce or the about to be set aside leader of a great and storied nation. It’s still a fundamental: know your audience.

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