Leadership is not all public relations, but good leadership does involve public relations. In my view, PR is simply about telling a story, telling it widely, and controlling that story as much as you can. Leaders who can’t do this don’t have all the tools of leadership in their toolbox.
If you’ve been getting Leading Thoughts for a while, you know I have no intention of being political here, but I do want to use Donald Trump’s latest troubles as an example for you.
There are three huge laws of public relations that I push aggressively with my clients. First, narrate reality, or tell a story that gives your followers a lens through which to view the world. Second, narrate often and in ever widening circles. In other words, tell your story a lot and tell it to as many people as possible. Third, when that story is challenged, get to the point of challenge as quickly as possible and with the best support possible.
Now, Donald Trump tried to tell a story, but it did not explain reality. For example, he espouses conservative politics now, but he was not always so right-leaning. Videos racing around the internet confirm this. He also was not always so open to religious influence. Nor was he always as patriotically committed to the good of his nation.
Where is the true narrative that explains his change in these areas? Did he read a book extolling conservative economics? Did he have a religious conversion? Did growing older cause him to see his country in a different light? What is the story that explains what we see?
Trump offered no comprehensive narrative. As a result, he has no comprehensive explanation for his past deeds. When those deeds surface, as in the recent scandalous video, he sustains potentially terminal damage.
Had he been able to say, like George W. Bush, that he lived an immoral life until a moment of change came and now he is a different man, then no video from more than a decade ago could have led to such harm. In the same way, had video of a drunk George W. Bush surfaced from before his 40th birthday—when he says a spiritual commitment transformed him—voters would have thought little of it. The narrative they had accepted would only have been confirmed.
Let’s be clear. Leaders should never lie. It’s wrong, the truth will always surface and true leaders don’t need lies to succeed. However, leaders should make sure that a true narrative is clearly proclaimed, and then they should guard that narrative and reinforce it as challenges and changes demand.
Here it is again. Have a narrative. Proclaim it often and widely. Answer effectively when that narrative is challenged. If you have truth on your side— “Our soap is the best,” “I underwent a change,” “We rebuilt against overwhelming odds”—then your narrative becomes the rallying, ennobling force you need to succeed. It explains reality, draws others to your cause, and establishes your place in the race or the market or wider world.
Here’s your homework: Decide what is true about what you’re doing. Ask yourself if you are proclaiming it clearly. Decide if you are ready to reinforce it wherever it is challenged.
That’s it. Have a good weekend. And hang in there Notre Dame!