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The Courageous Communicator and The Power of ‘What if’

Jason AnthoineJason Anthoine·

Everyone wants communicators focused on strategies, channels, content, crises and whatever the flavor of the month is in your organization.

And, yes, you better focus on those things, or you’ll soon be focused on rebounding after getting sacked.

But while you’re focused on working in your job, you should also be focused on working on your job: adding value and becoming more valuable to all those you impact.

And that starts with courage.

For communicators, being courageous means leading in far more impactful ways than just cranking out great content, making deadlines and putting out fires.

Because of your role, you — probably more than anyone else at your company — are uniquely positioned to hear and see just about everything that goes on about your company and your brand.

No one else has her finger on the pulse — the living pulse — of your company and brand like you do. As a result, you see things all the time that need your touch…things that fall way outside of the traditional definition of what a communicator ought to be doing.

We’d likely all agree that we communicators ought not be balancing the corporate books, performing surgery or welding ship hulls together. Those things are best left to the professionals. But that doesn’t mean we don’t play a role in making sure those things go well for those who are doing them. Or experiencing them. Or buying them.

How do we do that? As communicators, our roles are to inform, involve and inspire anyone associated with our company and brand: employees, leaders, consumers, investors, regulators, community neighbors, suppliers, the media, among others. And since we’re all professional communicators, we can all probably do the inform part in our sleep.

So here’s where your courage kicks in.

The involve and inspire parts take more than just effort. They take courage. And to do these two things well, we communicators should get much better at these three critical areas:

Being a leader, even when you aren’t in charge

After all these years, I’m still amazed that some people wait until they are bestowed a title promotion before they think of themselves as a leader.

As if somehow, magically, now that they are a Director of This or a Vice President of That, they can now start being the leader they’ve always wanted to be. Hogwash!

The time to start being a leader is now. Right now. This minute. Your title promotion should reflect your achievements, not launch them. And there are plenty of ways to lead with courage in your organization, especially given your role.

Does this sound familiar? No one in Accounting knows what HR is working on. And no one in Finance knows what Facility XYZ is working on.

But you, in Communications, are uniquely positioned to know what all of these functions are doing. And with that knowledge, you can help connect dots that others just can’t see.

Your company isn’t a disparate web of individual threads. It’s a tapestry of combined efforts. And a key part of your role is to help weave all of those individual threads together into the mosaic that is your company’s story.

You can’t do that by sitting around waiting for the next request to come in. You do that by leading and inserting yourself where you can add value and by having an opinion and voicing it.

That doesn’t mean you should charge around making proclamations or claiming ownership of projects that aren’t yours.

What it does mean is playing a bigger role in helping other leaders connect all of these individual efforts together so that everyone can see what success looks like and how to get there.

That’s leading. And leading has nothing to do with having a leadership title and everything to do with having a leadership mindset.

Being disruptive without being disrupting

Innovation is the lifeblood of every organization. It invigorates and renews the company spirit as the organization grows and matures over time. Innovation starts with a disruptive idea that breaks the mold of the ordinary and encourages fresh, new ideas to take hold.

There are plenty of ways for you to be disruptive in your role as a communicator.

Stuck with an outdated customer channel you’d like to get rid of? Why not try a limited pilot for a mobile app that is only geared toward your most devoted consumers.

Does your team structure get in the way of getting the whole team’s best creative thinking about all of your projects?

Why not mix your media and social team with your internal comms team and see what new concepts pop out of having fresh eyes looking at the work.

But why stop there? Why not sponsor a cross-functional chat twice a month with Accounting, HR, Finance and Operations so they can finally see what the others are doing?

You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to make things better at your company.

That’s what they expect you to do!

You can try any number of innovations that are disruptive but aren’t at all disrupting to the day-to-day workflow.

Living the brand, not just communicating about it

The only way to really know and understand your company is to immerse yourself in it. Stop splashing around in the shallow waters and really immerse yourself by diving into the deep end.

Try this. If you want to write a great story for your intranet about a guy who works on the assembly line making baseball bats, then go to that facility and spend time with him and really get a sense for who he is and what he does.

Don’t do a phone interview. Don’t take a quick trip and only spend a few minutes chatting and getting a standard photo.

Really get to know him and how he sees himself contributing to the organization. Spend several days there. Shoot some video. Talk to his friends. Hang out in the breakroom. Go to the local lunch place with him and his whole team and see how they interact.

Of course, you’ll get a much better story. But in the process of writing a great story about this great guy who makes baseball bats, you’ll also get a true and unvarnished look at your company in ways you could never get otherwise.

You’ll come away with much more than just one intranet story. You’ll have a dozen or more story ideas. And you’ll start to see how all of these individual threads are connected.

The same thing can happen at customer visits, supplier meetings, trade shows, and community events: anywhere the company is intersecting with a stakeholder.

You can’t fully understand the impact of the company, much less how to shape those interactions, unless you yourself are living the brand.

And that can’t happen at your desk.

The Power of ‘What if’

Listen. I get it. All of this is easier said than done, especially if you’re early in your career. But so what?

Do the hard thing. If it wasn’t so hard, then everyone would do be doing it and wouldn’t be special.

Former United States President Teddy Roosevelt said, “Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

The work that we as communicators do is work worth doing. It matters. It adds value. It changes lives.

It takes courage to effectively inform, involve and inspire. Every single day, all of us deal with the constraints of what is.

But it’s the courageous who dare to look beyond all that and ask ‘what if?’.


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