‘Tell me’ versus ‘show me’ – overcoming the limitations of the spoken word.

Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda

Image credit: Mauro Parra-Miranda

Sally Magnusson’s book Where Memories Go is the story of her mother’s fight to retain her grip on her articulate self. Mamie Baird Magnusson was regarded as one of the finest journalists of her generation. Her daughter’s book combines an evocative and deeply personal memoir with a manifesto and a call to arms against a disease (dementia) which is fast becoming the scourge of the 21st century.

In her book, Sally Magnusson seeks insights from a range of experts and sources to illustrate society’s response to how we treat older people, how we can face one of the greatest social, medical, economic and moral challenges of our times, and what it means to be human.

One literary reference is a description of how memory can be seen to influence all aspects of an individual’s life from Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children: “(memory) selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”

This idea of memories as a lens through which current events are filtered played into another stream of thought that was preoccupying me: the seeming impossibility of a leader’s ability to inspire and motivate an entire workforce.

Without doubt, internal communications practitioners today spend a fraction of the time they used to crafting speeches, emails, newsletters to be delivered in the leadership’s name to the entire workforce.  However, Accredited Business Communicator Shel Holtz claims employees still want/need to hear from their senior leaders and a huge investment is still made by organisations in events to enable this.

As IC practitioners  work with the leadership to develop the format and messaging for these ‘events’, we are increasingly aware of the wide number of factors that will influence how people hear and respond to such communications:

  • People are motivated by their own personal values set which may differ in significant aspects to the corporate values being referenced, either overtly or subliminally.
  • Career aspirations / expectations of different generations and, indeed, of different groups within generations, vary enormously.
  • People are more or less trusting, more or less cynical depending on their own career path / experience of the organisation.

Plus this one as highlighted by Salman Rushdie:

  • People interpret based on their own contextual experience.

Consequently, it appears to me that the only realistic objectives for any widely disseminated corporate messaging should be limited to:

  • providing clarity of direction
  • instilling confidence in the organisation’s ability to achieve/progress towards a stated goal
  • creating a springboard for others across the organisation to build on

The effectiveness of a leader’s written or even spoken words is limited by external factors (attention span, ‘noisy’ environment, choice of delivery channel) as well as the internal characteristics outlined above.

However, when a leader’s behaviour continuously reflects and reinforces the messaging, (s)he can move beyond the realm of providing clarity and confidence, into the realm of motivation and inspiration. Which is, presumably, where most leaders aspire to operate.


About madeleinekavanagh

Internal comms specialist with a career spanning advertising, car sales and management consulting. My greatest legacy (so far) - my son!
This entry was posted in Authentic communication, Business Leadership, communication channels, Corporate Communications, Corporate Values, Employee Engagement, Internal communications, Leadership Behaviours, People management / motivation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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