Are your antics overshadowing your message?

Posted October 23, 2009 in Communication, Latest News & Insights

At last week’s Art of Management event, Tom Peters took the closing keynote.  Probably a good call, since late in the day you need someone who’s going to wake you up… and Peters’ is certainly up to the task.  I actually think of Tom Peters as the corporate equivalent of a “shock jock” ala Howard Stern.  As one of my fellow “tweeters” noted:  Time on stage before Tom Peters launches into his first rant: 10 seconds.

Peters is not known for being subtle.  I’ve seen him at least 8 times over the past 10 years and always find him to be an entertaining speaker who gets you thinking.  He throws out provocative statistics and anecdotes and has a terrific way of making you see that the majority of organizational processes are idiotic and most managers are inept.  As an example from this session:  most doctors get the info they need to diagnose their patients from the patients themselves.  And yet… most doctors will interrupt the patient in the first 18 seconds.  To bash the point across, Peters shouts: “How many of you in here are 18 SECOND MANAGERS?!?!?!?!”

It’s edutainment at its finest.  However, as I heard Peters rant about the fact that he’s never been more frustrated with organizations (because apparently he’s been doing this schpeel for years and nothing’s changing), I started to wonder if all his hype was killing his point.  I can certainly attest to the fact that Peters message hasn’t changed much since I first saw him in ’99.  Same stats, same rants… just a few different spins.

It got me thinking: can you, as a leader, actually overshadow your purpose by overhyping the problems?  As I watched the audience I saw a lot of laughter and head nodding, but I wondered how much of the message was actually sinking in and how much was the enthusiastic response of an audience enjoying a “show”.

As leaders, especially you passionate excitable types (guilty as charged), one of the Achilles heels that we may need to watch for is the constant need to dial everything up to 11, when maybe a 5 will suffice.


Passion for your cause is crucial to winning people over, but don’t go over the top.  People may enjoy the show, but they’re probably going to tune back to another channel when it’s all over.

 Happy leading!

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  1. Paul Copcutt says:

    It’s a great question to ask ourselves. Sometimes the clarity & consistency of your leadership brand can be much more effective than the occasional rant. Not quite slow and steady wins the race, but certainly a considered approach will reap longer term rewards for all.

    Loved the link to the Spinal Tap video – priceless!

    Just my toonies worth.

    • LeaderTalker says:

      Thanks for the toonies. Lots of studies show that leaders who are a little more reserved (but not too reserved) are perceived to be more competent. I think, as leaders, we’re our own worst enemies when aspects of our “style” derail our intent. But then, Peters has cultivated a brand that’s all about ranting, so I guess he’s committed to that approach. 🙂