By Jeff Ghannam
This March 25 will be the fifth year I will have the pleasure of leading PRSA-NCC’s “From PR Manager to PR Leader” workshop.
Attendees are primarily people who are early in their career arcs and want to learn the management and leadership skills they need to take their careers to the next level. These are people who perhaps for the first time are being asked to think strategically or maybe to lead people. They come to the workshop to share their challenges (it’s a very interactive format) and how they might be able to address them.
One thing participants learn early on the workshop is that we all have extremely similar challenges, and often with similar solutions. I’d like to share just a few of the things participants have learned over the years.
To be taken seriously, we need to think of ourselves as more than “just a PR person.” Before we can become leaders, we must become valued business partners. And before we can become valued business partners, we must behave like valued business partners. So we must stop limiting ourselves to just our PR functions and we should learn our industry and what makes our company or organization really tick. We must let our boss know we care about what keeps them up at night and that we too have an interest in the company, its future, and its bottom line. Hint: We should never say, “I’m not good with finances, that’s why I went into PR.”
Listen before we speak. I don’t want to be blunt but we PR people often talk too much and listen too little. We are so focused on delivering our elevator pitch and messages that we sometimes forget to really listen to what our teams, clients, or target audiences really want or need. Always do your research, I say, and let it start by simply listening. Once our targets know we’ve truly heard and understand them, they will see us as an ally that cares about their needs. Which leads me to the next point…
Care about people. We human beings like people who like us first. OK, that sounds a bit like third grade but if you let people know you care about them they will support you. That means going beyond asking how their weekend was on Monday morning. For example, one of the easiest ways to motivate people is to let them know you have their professional growth and career development in mind. Ask them where they want to go with their careers and how you can help them get there. If you care about them, they will care about you.
Be genuine and straight forward. The one thing I’ve developed over the years in the PR business is a finely tuned BS radar. If I so much as suspect someone is not being straight with me, I will do everything I can to distance myself from that person and whatever that person is trying to get me to support. Life is too short to be dealing with phony people. If we want people to follow us, we need to be straight with them, even when we have something difficult to say. They’ll respect us for it.
There is no such thing as “born leaders.” Throw this tired cliché out the window. Leadership skills can be learned. Yes, some people seem to have a knack for big picture thinking and motivating people but most people need to learn the tricks of the job. There are proven methods you can learn for strategizing, motivating people, resolving conflict, solving problems and so on. If you work hard at it, it won’t be so hard.
The half-day workshop offers just a glimpse into what participants need to know to become valued managers and leaders. No keys to the C-suite will be given out that day but the workshop does give participants insights into how they can develop their leadership skills so they can realize their career aspirations.
Jeff Ghannam is president of Crystal Communications & Marketing, LLC, and past president of the PRSA-National Capital Chapter.