How many times have we heard that phrase? We bump into people in the corridor or at a Town Hall and the leader we meet (guy or gal!) just seems completely different in 'real-life' to what we've pictured, read or been led to believe exists?! This happens with celebs too.
It is becoming less common, granted. But I genuinely believe we have a role as communicators to help leaders come to life and convey the real characters behind the job title. They all have a personality, honest, it's just a case of finding it with some! And in an age of social media where more and more leaders are using channels to build their own networks and personal brands, we have a duty to help them portray the best version of themselves that they can be.
I'm not saying we need to 'ghost write' for them or hold the pen on every channel that they take to, but we do need to coach them in 'keeping it real'. Making them feel comfortable with being themselves publicly, especially in their organisation or team, and don't feel like they need to put on an 'act' when they take to the stage or have to write an email or a tweet. If the leader on paper doesn't match the leader in reality, people will see straight through it. Jeopardising their position as a credible and trusted leader.
How do we do this? Well, for me it starts by having an understanding of how the leader talks – their mannerisms, their quirky ways, their passions and beliefs. Once you can 'picture' how they'll react and respond to certain messages, you can use this to challenge and coach them into creating really engaging and true to life materials. For example, if you've got a leader who's really funny, use it! If you've got a leader who's a self-confessed geek, use it! If you've got a leader who's an outright corporate beast, play on it! Only when you have an understanding of how they think, feel and speak can you influence what's communicated. Don't be afraid to say
I really believe that comms with personality is a key part of being a great comms partner. It helps with engagement. It helps leaders, lead. It helps get cut through in a crazy world of time-poor people. And no matter what the industry, the leader or brand, there will be something that you can use to your advantage. I've worked with leaders who are both supportive and reluctant towards this advice, and the only difference between them is that one requires more time and investment than the other.
Those that are reluctant will be fearful of being anything less than 'professional'. And are most likely very straight-laced, corporate beasts that know only how to convey themselves in that manner. But outside of work, what do they do? What's their interests? What's their off-duty personality like? It's just a case of investing time in understanding them (and maybe some Facebook stalking!) to really get a hook that you can suggest to pull through. And also, with these leaders, you'll probably have to evidence that it's working too. So be prepared to measure the impact and engagement of different pieces to prove or disprove that this more personal approach works in their field. And if it doesn't try a different angle. And if they really are a corporate beast both in and out of work, then that's fine too! That's who they are and therefore they're being authentic and true to themselves… and you can be safe in the knowledge that the person on paper matches the person in the flesh. That's what authentic comms is all about.