There’s no denying that Donald Trump is unlike any President in history. It is literally unbelievable that despite all the corruption charges and even a case of impeachment to boot, Trump demands complete fealty! It has now come to a point where to cross him is to risk one’s own future in the Republican Party. His support base remains largely intact – such is Trump’s compelling power and sway over them that it seems almost impossible to come in between him and his base. How has he managed to achieve this? As we look closer, it becomes clear that his unconventional style of communication is at the heart of his success. No other President has come even close to realizing the sheer power of unfiltered access to the public through social media. This is a far cry from the polished and manicured PR communication, through traditional press conferences and televised presidential speeches, that we are used to. What we have, instead, is a Twitter-savvy President whose direct communication strategy has resulted in declining media’s influence, making journalists increasingly irrelevant. Twitter has in fact given the President the opportunity to connect personally with his base, express his opinions, and decry his opponents at all times from one platform. In fact, he nearly brought America to the brink of war and back just a few days ago…all on Twitter! It is no wonder then that this hyper-connectivity and always-on presence have helped him to constantly assert his influence, and in fact create an alternative news sphere entirely.
Like it or hate it, Trump can sure teach us a thing or two about the power of effective communication as the world shifts to a new paradigm of leadership. It’s fascinating to watch him brush aside his impeachment charges, among many others, as “fake news” and hypnotize the nation with his Twitter rants and speeches. The simple fact is that Trump is a powerful story-teller and hooks in his supporters through his narratives, even if they border on the ridiculous many a times! It shows us that the most important thing is not the tone or the way in which the message is shared, but rather how it connects with your audience. This is particularly interesting because it’s something that most company leaders struggle with.
History has long been strewn with high-flying CEOs whose careers have been brought down by a poorly led communication strategy. The last year, especially, has not been very kind to the US tech giants. For the first time, Google and Facebook are no longer among the 10 best places to work in the US, according to the latest ranking by Glassdoor. Their CEOs have been embroiled in various controversies and scandals with their users and employees resulting in declining trust levels. Who would have thought that Google, a company that had long prided itself on an open culture where employees could speak their mind, would make a startling culture -shift away from upfront communication as it attempts to curb growing employee activism?
Strangely enough, when it comes to communication strategy, it turns out that the visionary and controversial Elon Musk is the corporate equivalent of Trump! Think about it – have you ever seen any TV commercial featuring a Tesla? And what about SpaceX that’s got the common man excited and has created a buzz about space travel in the near future? The most amazing and effective marketing tool is Elon Musk himself, as he reaches out to the public and his fervent fan base of over 30 million followers through Twitter. His tweets basically translate to a continual stream of news coverage and happenings at the company – and it’s all free!
Satya Nadella adopted a similar approach when he decided to use Yammer, the enterprise social network, to successfully transform Microsoft’s communication strategy when he took over as CEO in 2014. By facilitating open conversations hosted on Yammer, Nadella helped Microsoft move away from silos, enabling employees across all generations and levels at the company, including the C-suite, to interact and have constructive conversations with each other. Nadella’s hosted “CEO Connection” page on Yammer allows employees to ask him and his leadership team questions and discuss topics that are relevant to the entire company on a daily basis. It was a great way to build commitment and trust in his vision of transforming Microsoft, and Nadella was eventually able to redirect the focus on teamwork, collaboration and above all, results. It is indeed a far cry from the toxic culture characterized by competing factions and internal antagonism that prevailed during his predecessor Steve Ballmer’s reign.
Elon Musk, Satya Nadella… Can you think of other business leaders who have employed this or a similar approach? John Legere maybe, considering how he put himself out on every possible occasion to the extent that T-Mobile became an extension of himself! Does anybody else come to your mind?
The question in my mind is this – what can we learn from these examples when it comes to our own leadership communication style? Can we Trumpify business communication? Where will it be okay and where will it break down? Can you, as a CEO, go on Twitter/ Facebook/ Instagram/ Slack/ Yammer and the likes, and start an open communication channel with your employees, partners and customers? Will we all do better without the complex layers we have built for corporate communication? A great leader is always a great story-teller and can do wonders if s/he has the right tools in hand. I would wager to say that every successful company has a great story waiting to be told, and these days we are constraining our best brand ambassadors with rules that stifle transparent communication. As a result, employees don’t often understand the rationale behind the company’s actions. The investing public plays a guessing game based on some hearsay knowledge and short-term trends. Customers are reluctant to take the risk with a new product and go with known brands because there seems so little truth in most marketing talk. Eventually, everybody loses!
Isn’t it about time business leaders reclaim their freedom of speech in 2020?!
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