Under the microscope with Stephen Harper

Posted January 6, 2010 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

Ah, the joy’s of public leadership.  Every trip you make gives people like me fodder for a blog.  This one’s courtesy of our illustrious leader, Stephen Harper.

Did you catch Harper on the National  last night?  Peter Mansbridge did a one on one interview that offered up, amongst the usual political deflection and “spin”, an interesting leadership lesson in what NOT to say.

Now, I’m not a political animal, and this is not a stab at Harper because of his political views.  This is a post about personal brand and the congruency of message…ie: are we buying the talk your walking or is the talking just talking?

Anyone who’s followed Harper would say that there’s been a “massaging” of his personal brand lately… better outfits, smiling photo’s with the family, tinkling the ivories at the NAC.  Pundits claim his team is trying to present a “softer” side to a man who was heavily criticized as being too hardline/too US (Bush) aligned/too untrustworthy (apparently women voters didn’t like his shifty eyes), etc. etc.

Welcome the softer, friendlier leadership side of Stephen Harper.

In his interview with Mansbridge, Harper was “on message”… smiling, using his name frequently (a classic “rapport building” strategy), gently “spinning” topics (proroguing Parliament… no big deal!) and then, just when he had dodged all the verbal bullets he made a classic communication mistake.

He uttered one small phrase: “If I can be frank on this one”. 

Mansbridge jumped on it immediately… “Well, I assume you’ve been frank on all these things right?” (Heavy emphasis on the RIGHT part.)  You can check it out about 6 minutes into the second part of the interview.

Oopsy… 15 minutes of spin, all blown out of the water due to one little phrase that leaves the listener thinking “hmmmmmm.  What’s really going on with you?”

Great lesson here in how a minor gaffe can completely spin your message in a direction that you didn’t intend.  Eliminate phrases like “in all honesty”, “truthfully”, “can I be straight with you?”… if you are being honest, truthful and straight, you don’t need to announce it.  So, what little phrase are you going to stop saying?

Happy leading!


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