Inspired by a conversation with my friend Andy Welfle, I wrote this for the February issue of Business People. What’s your opinion? Is this the best of times for communicators–or the worst…and why?
No matter what you believe, if you’re a leader, you need to adapt.
Recently, a friend and I got into a good-natured debate about social media. I had read a New York Times piece about “over sharing” on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and—while I’m an ardent social media adherent—I conceded that the author made some valid points. My take was that social media, despite its tremendous value, serves up a lot of content that’s mundane, superficial and just plain stupid. My friend’s take was that social media, despite its flaws, is a tremendously valuable tool for making connections, and we have to take the bad with the good.
We ended up agreeing more than finding points of contention—in part because our conversation happened over Facebook, thereby poking a lot of holes in my argument. Still, a question arose: is this the best of times for communicators, or the worst?
My belief is that it’s both. We argue the merits of social media via social media. We watch news reports about the dangers of a 24/7 news cycle. We read stories on our tablets about the death of the written word. We have more options than ever before, in short, but those options are driving us insane.
This presents a serious challenge for today’s business leaders. Being a great leader means, first and foremost, being a great communicator, and today, being a great communicator requires a willingness to adapt. The problem is, many business leaders are reluctant to try something new. This isn’t to say that “new” always means “better,” but it’s impossible to judge what’s better if you don’t understand or—worse yet—don’t try to understand, something new. It’s impossible, too, to improve the communication environment if you’re not present where the majority of the audience wants to have the conversation.
Today’s leaders must remember that not only do their words have power, but so do their actions in choosing how they’ll convey those words. As a new generation of leaders emerges, a willingness to find common ground will go a long way toward determining whether this in fact becomes the best of times, or the worst, for communicators. That may mean fighting to retain what’s best in our environment, or conceding that new methods may be a little better. Ultimately, though, it requires flexibility in where those conversations happen.
It may even require a willingness to have those conversations on Facebook—if only to debate whether Facebook has any merit at all.