Throughout history, leaders have fallen into two main categories in communicating their goals, expectations, visions, or demands. They either adopted an austere tone paired with aggressive expressions and sharp-edged arguments both in public and in private, or they kept such a tone for the more private sphere (with associates, partners, assistants) while in public, they opted for a more diplomatic, rounded sound, full of politeness and compliments.
As we move closer to our era, it seems that the leaders from the first category, and the reasons behind them, have become extinct. Most recent leaders’ communication mode consists of exceptional public manners and harshness in private. Recent history is so full of such leaders that those exceptions where politeness and kindness governed both the public voice and the private sphere are deemed ‘dysfunctional.’ More often than not, kind leaders have to settle with a footnote in the history books, and no documentary is ever made for them.
Today, a new type of leadership communication has emerged: The leader voices his/her concerns, sets goals for others to notice, and announces the minimum expectations with a language full of edgy expressions and in a tone far less rounded than any public had been used to. Yet, upon returning to the private chambers where counselors and advisors of varied influence gather, the leader remains quiet, polite, encouraging, and understanding.
And it doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing… Admittedly, public political correctness suffers a bit in a time and age where it should flourish, but as a leadership model, it seems that… it works!
By publically setting the tone clearly on what the leader expects, tactics can take effect without delay, and any evaluation kick-starts as soon as. The trick here is that the private sphere is also listening… By expressing our objectives loud and clear to the world, we also set our closest partners and staff on high alert. And the fact that nobody can accuse the leader of crossing any lines, since he/she was addressing the public in general and not someone specifically, is an added plus.
It gives the leader the luxury of returning to his staff with all the cards in his hand. He/she can continue in ‘tough mode’ without anybody being surprised and therefore push limits a bit further than what would generally be expected, or (as it is most usually the case now) switch to ‘comfort’ mode and provide support, encouragement, understanding because after such a public statement, he can afford it.
As I am still determining what to make of this strategy, I must examine it closely and report a more decisive conclusion in a few years. But for now, it seems such an approach is no coincidence. There must be reasons behind it, and the initial findings indicate that it is a welcomed change regarding tangible results.
Perhaps the pendulum was in the ‘cruel’ mode for centuries, shifted to ‘soft’ for a few decades that we all witnessed (with variations), and now is settling in the middle with a reversed paradigm.
Time will tell.