Working in corporate communications, you get up close and personal to the conversation around corporate culture. Leaders want input and content about cultural topics on their agenda; and employees who are unwilling to give direct feedback are often VERY willing to give feedback to the messenger!
In my career, I have done a fair amount of ghostwriting, trying to represent a leader’s narrative or objective. These leaders want something enough to engage around a topic and bring people together to work on it; they understand that craft and guile is required.
For one reason or another – and busyness is usually at its heart – they don’t want this thing enough to place a blank sheet of paper in front of them, raise a pen, pause and ponder –
“what is it that I really want others to understand; what journey do I need them to come on with me?”
These leaders want something done – now! They believe diktat and some wordy words will be enough. It is not.
I understand the request for assistance. If I am a cultural influencer, I can bring various ideas to bear in my writing. I can channel the essence of the leader’s voice in relation of other’s voices which I hear and they do not. Sometimes it works. Often, nothing changes.
When it doesn’t, when the words do not resonate, the conversation usually goes back to the values and brand of the leader – are they able to do / lead this thing that want?; and if not, this and that is what they need to change in order to get it done. I think this conversation generally misses the point. It is not in the leader’s largesse to facilitate the change they want in the first place!
Liam Barrington-Bush, in Anarchists in the Boardroom, (via Harold Jarche) explains
“Complexity tells us that culture change cannot be orchestrated, given the number of interdependent relationships it would have to shift, but that cultures move based on any of those individual relationships changing themselves in a way that resonates more widely.”
All the leader can do is begin the culture conversation; their words should invite others in. This invitation should be challenging because it should not give all or any of the answers. As people enter the conversation and share their thoughts and beliefs, others can migrate and coalesce around certain ideas or posits. A new reality can emerge, and this is the cultural change in action.
Ghostwriting is generally not the key to unlocking the conversation, nor is the leader’s alone. Instead, what is required is enabling multiple voices, each authentic, in the quest for the heart of the matter. The leader’s voice should be there, centrally and authentically.
And that is so, so easy to achieve. As Mike Figliuolo shares in Let’s Make Leadership Real Again
Everyone wants to be authentic. It’s one of the most overwrought concepts out there. Fortunately it’s incredibly easy to be authentic—simply drop the pretenses and be yourself.
The ghostwriter’s voice should be there too, but as their own.
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