How a leader responds to bad news is a measure of both the leader and the institution she represents. In recent months, the U. S. armed forces have issued reports and generally wrung their collective hands about sexism in the ranks. We have learned that women are not treated respectfully or fairly and that many instances of criminal behavior, including rape, go unreported.
It’s been a mostly slow, bureaucratic response to an urgent, horrific human problem. Does it give you any confidence that the situation will really improve?
In stark contrast, consider the Head of Army for Australia, Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison. He’s had to respond to a scandal in that nation’s forces concerning a group of officers and rank-and-file apparently filming women soldiers in the shower and so on. His response is the very model of modern communications. His PSA is clear, articulate, to the point, and absolutely riveting. Do you want to be an effective, charismatic communicator? Take a lesson from the general – in fact, take four.
1. He’s charismatic because he’s angry and focused. Charisma isn’t mysterious; it’s focused emotion. General Morrison is angry, and it shows – in the clenched jaw, the lowered eyebrows and narrowed eyes, the fierce eye contact, and the stillness of his head. As a result, you can’t take your eyes off him. You don’t have to get angry to be charismatic, but you do have to focus on a strong emotion. Don’t fake it; feel it.
2. He’s authentic because his body language and the message match. I always tell clients that every communication is two conversations, the content and the body language. When the two are aligned, you can be an effective communicator. When the two are not aligned, people always believe the body language. The body language always trumps the content. Always. What happens to most people is that they fail to align their body language with their content.
Body language is where your emotions, attitudes, and intents are first expressed. So people who have a lot on their minds, or who are distracted, give us that in their body language. It’s not charismatic; it’s just everyday.
Morrison, on the other hand, gives us intense emotional focus, which shows up in his body language, which aptly matches his message. Result: alignment and authenticity. And charisma.
3. He’s convincing because his language is clear and direct. The PSA is a model of clarity and straight talk. He says, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept,” in urging his comrades to speak up and report bad behavior rather than tolerating it. And he closes by saying, “If you’re not up to it (maintaining the standards of good behavior), find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters.” There’s no weasel wording or bureaucratic double-talk. He lets both the public and the armed services know what they should expect and do.
4. He’s effective because he gives clear action steps. The general leaves his listeners in no doubt as to what they should do now. To the pervs in the ranks, he says, “If that does not suit you (i.e., treating women with respect) then get out.” He urges everyone to help stop the bad behavior, and to report it if they witness it. And he closes by culling the herd, urging the recalcitrant to “find something else to do with your life.” In fact, his language throughout the short PSA is action-oriented. He gives a brief analysis of the situation, but then gets right to what to do about it. That’s because he’s in no doubt as to what the right course of action is, and he manages to convey that admirably to his fellow soldiers.
The PSA spot has already had a million views on YouTube. There’s a good reason for it. Would that all leaders were so admirably clear and passionate about what they expect from their followers!
Thanks to my friend Claire Duffy in Australia for alerting me to this great short speech.