The Golden Public Relations Dictum

Reprinted from The Public Relations Quarterly

By Brent Filson -

A tennis pro tells players:  "I'm going to say one thing that will make you a 40 percent better tennis player right away.  When the ball comes toward you, step to one side before hitting it."
He's right.  In stepping to one side before stroking the ball, beginning players can immediately improve their game.

I'll take a page from his way of teaching.  I'm going to say one thing that will help make you a better public relations professional.  But this applies not just to beginners but to old pros as well.  I call it the Golden-Public Relations Dictum:  Get your clients to lead for results.

The Dictum appears to be a simple enough — simple to understand and apply.  Yet working with public relations and communication leaders for more than 15 years, I find few of them applying it consistently — to their detriment.  For many public relations leaders misunderstand several fundamental aspects of leadership.  Clearing up the misunderstandings will sharpen your skills and help you get more results.

To illustrate these ideas, I'll tell you about a recent challenge that I encountered.  The new CEO of a global manufacturing company told me that he needed some leadership communication help.  Hired from a competing firm, he was a stranger to the company, a company hobbled by declining  market share and bad morale caused in part by the arbitrary actions of the previous CEO, an isolated dictator.  The new CEO said, "I need to get this company committed to my ideas."

Clearly, this was a quintessential public relations challenge — changing or reinforcing people's views.  Generally you have three tools accomplish this: the spoken word, the written word, and the image. The most important tool, and the one often under used and misused by public relations pros, is the spoken word.  Primarily the spoken word drives the Dictum.  The spoken word drives leadership, leadership as I will define it here;  for leadership is most effectively applied through face-to-face speaking. 

Before I show how we applied the Dictum to the CEO's challenges, let me define leadership as it ought to be.  For it is within the realm of what leadership ought to be that you have a great opportunity to discharge the Dictum for results.

The word "leadership"distills from old Norse word-root meaning "to make go."  Indeed, leadership is about making things go — making people go, making organizations go, making public relations go.  But the misunderstanding comes in when leaders fail to understand who actually makes what go.  Leaders often believe that they themselves must make things go, that if people must go from point A to point B, let's say, that they must order them to go.  But order leadership founders today in fast-changing, highly competitive markets.

In this environment, a new kind of leadership must be cultivated — leadership that aims not to order others to go from point A to point B — but instead that aims to  motivate them to want take the leadership in going from A to B.

That "getting others to lead others" is what leadership today should be about.  And it is what we should inculcate in our clients today.  We must challenge them to lead, lead for results with this principle in mind, and accept nothing else from them but this leadership.

Back to our new CEO and his challenge.  I suggested that he apply the Golden Dictum — that he lead for results not by ordering his lieutenants about but instead by challenging them to take leadership for those results.  I suggested that he begin doing that by first gathering them together and talking with them.
"Fine," he said, "I'll give them a presentation on the state of the business."

"Hold on," I said.  "The Golden Dictum has three rules.  And rule number one is this.  Don't give presentations, have give heartfelt leadership talks instead."

I explained that there is a big difference, a difference in leadership effectiveness (new definition) between a presentation and a leadership talk, and that leaders must understand that difference.  A presentation communicates information, but a leadership talk has people believe in you and follow you.  More than 95 percent of leadership communication should be centered around leadership talks, not presentations.  He didn't have to describe the state of the business so much as he had to give a talk that began to get people motivated to want to lead others.

"Okay," he said.  "I'll give a leadership talk.  I want to have a strong leadership impact on them."

"Hold on again," I said.  "You are about to violate rule two of the Golden Dictum.  Rule two states that your leadership is measured by their leadership. You must tell them in unmistakable terms that you need their leadership.  What's more: You must tell them that they need their leadership.  There is a difference between doing a task and leading that task.  When we do a task, we simply accomplish it.  But when we lead a task, we take much different, much more effective action.  To accomplish their tasks well, they must take strong leadership of those tasks.  You are speaking to them not to motivate them but most importantly have them motivate themselves to lead."

"All right," the CEO said.  "I'll give a leadership talk that challenges them to take leadership in getting results.  That should get them believing in themselves and feeling committed to my ideas."

I replied, "If your aim is to get them to simply believe and to feel something, you are about to violate rule three of the Golden Dictum.  Rule three states that you have others lead for results by challenging them to take physical action.  You see, belief is not enough, feelings are not enough.  People are only manifesting motivation when they are taking physical action.  Look at the first two letters in the word ‘motivation.'  Those letters are also found in ‘motor,' ‘momentum,' ‘motion,' ‘movement,' etc.  You are motivating people not when they think or feel something but when they are actually engaged in taking those physical steps that lead to results."

Guided by the Golden Dictum, the CEO assembled some 25 of his top leaders in the company's cafetorium and delivered not a presentation but a leadership talk.  (Rule one.)  He spoke to them from the heart about results and leadership, how he expected them to turn the company around by leading for results and how he would evaluate their performance and his on their leadership.  (Rule two.)  Finally, he had each leader write down three specific ways that they challenged him to help them get results. (Rule three.).

Clearly, that talk wasn't magic dust sprinkled on the challenge to miraculously transform it into success.  The talk was the beginning of many more talks, a lot of hard work, hard leadership work, that eventually led to a strong of successful quarters for the company. 

The CEO's lesson in leadership and motivation is your lesson in public relations.  Whenever you are faced with a challenge, put the Golden Dictum to work.  Get your clients to take leadership to meet that challenge.  Measure the clients performance on the leadership that they motivate others to engage in.  And have physical action take place in getting results.  Whether you are a beginner or an old pro, you will become an immediately better public relations professional; and you can keep getting better throughout your career.


© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"