Monday, January 10, 2011

Let's Walk theTalk and visibly live our values

I was listening to an interview on a national news station the other day.  The reporter was interviewing a well known academic and expert in political communication strategies. This individual has developed a specific reputation for creating powerful “sound bites”---those short and easily remembered lines that are intended to be repeated often in the media. Here is what the Phrase Finder website has to say about the origin of sound bites:
This originated in US media circles in the 1980s.  It is clear that the first known printed citations come from that period.  For example, The Washington Post, June 1980---"Remember that any editor watching needs a concise, 30-second sound bite. Anything more than that, you're losing them."

By the mid-1980s we had a new breed--"the Spin Doctors."  Their influence is such that the use of sound bites is now [2006] commonplace throughout those parts of the world that is strongly influenced by the media, i.e. pretty much everywhere.

The expert being interviewed passionately articulated some clear concerns about the use of sound bites.  Specifically that at best they were highly incomplete disclosures of an important idea or position.  At worst, they were outright manipulations of the facts. He made the case that we desperately need more information about important issues and need to be willing to invest in a more comprehensive understanding.  We shouldn’t be “lost” (as the above quote implies), if we have to actually listen for more than 30 seconds.  

I found it ironic that this individual, who was passionately advocating for  more information, followed his plea with (I paraphrase) “don’t get me wrong, I make a lot of money creating sound bites for politicians, it is a big business.”  As I was driving I remember asking out loud, “why are you doing it then?”  My opinion of this individual’s credibility dropped immediately in my eyes.  He sounded like a hypocrite.

The validity of sound bites is not really the point here. The point is that as leaders, we need to visibly live our values; we need to “walk the talk.”  Followers can spot a hypocrite a mile away.  If you are engaged in something that is inconsistent with your values and beliefs, you need to stop doing it.  If you lose your credibility, you will lose the hearts and minds of your followers.

Please pass along any comments; I always appreciate your thoughts.

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