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‘Risk’ your way to your ambitions

If you want to be a CEO or lead a communications, marketing or branding function in a big company, get comfortable with managing risk – even if nothing obvious about your job involves “formal” risk management beyond reputation risk.

Everyone who works in a business or professional setting is a risk manager since the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing fallout. That task can longer be delegated to financial managers, actuaries and other specialists.

This is particularly true for corporate communications and public relations professionals, who in today’s lean, flat firms are often the only mid- to senior-level people with horizontal views of their firm’s businesses, operations, IT and other functions – and how those groups work together to serve customers and generate profits.

Controlling risk may be out of our hands, but recognizing potential gaps and escalating concerns to the decision-makers who can effect necessary change distinguish leaders of companies and businesses from leaders of communications functions.

In this environment, ambitious corporate communications and public relations professionals must embrace risk as entrepreneurs and other business leaders do if their goal is to truly lead companies, influence boards and executives, and build businesses.

According to Reduce Risk By Seeming Risky by Dileep Rao, “Risk is a four letter word.” Though he explores the subject from the perspective of entrepreneurs, Rao’s article on Forbes.com is relevant to anyone who doesn’t “have the resources in time or capacity or money” to diversify – or delegate – financial and operational risk as banks, insurers, investors and executives can.

That sure sounds like my professional experience, as well as those of my fellow corporate communications and PR colleagues.

What do you think?

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“The ideal leader was the one who was trying to make himself dispensable.”

— John Cleese, Harvard Business Review, March 2014

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Last(ing) impressions

You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, the saying goes.

That’s what my father told me, at least, and it’s a principle I’ve tried to live by throughout my life and for the past 20 years as a working professional.

More recently, however, I’m reminded that the last impression — the one you leave — is as important, if not more so, than the first.

In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner examine the actions and behaviors of “managers” and “leaders” in a variety of situations.

Based on interviews with 60,000+ business people, Kouzes and Posner determined that managers enforce policies to ensure organizations operate as efficiently as possible; leaders drive change in organizations. Management is a control function; leadership is a transformational process.

Working from the perspective that leaders are made, not born, Kouzes and Posner conclude — as I recall through my muddled memory of b-school discussions and two corporate leadership seminars in the early naughts — that leadership takes place through conversations with the people they influence. As a result, a leader is only as successful at driving change and transforming organizations as his or her last conversation.

Likewise, our reputations — the parts that precede us and the impressions we make during subsequent interactions — evolve over time and dramatically affect our short- and long-term success.

Yet as I think about it, my father’s advice somehow sticks with me more than Kouzes and Posner’s conclusions.

I always try to make a good first impression, but I rarely reflect on the impressions I leave. And, when I do it’s only after I’ve observed a startled look, a confused expression or some other non-verbal cue that makes me question my actions — or when someone I know brings it to my attention.

What about you? When you reflect on the personal and professional relationships that are most important to you, what impressions do you leave? What lessons have you learned? Continue the conversation….