Comebacks for Leaders

It may sound to some like a lightweight subject, but it’s quite the contrary.  And you know that if you’ve ever tried to lead for a period of time.

Three of the primary characteristics of an effective leader are expertise, conviction and trustworthiness.  How can any of these be conveyed without effective communication? They can’t.

If we look for a moment at trustworthiness alone, comebacks rise to a high position in that category.  Spontaneity and wit were important to making John F. Kennedy so warmly regarded.  President Clinton’s ability to respond on his feet, making people he meets feel as if he is talking only to them, is part of his past, continued an re-emerging influence.  He is the true “comeback kid” in more than one way.

When “leaders” need to huddle behind podiums on a regular basis and read from text or a teleprompter, people know their words are likely not their own and surely not from the heart.  And so they distrust them.

Comebacks have a connotation of quips that put people in their place, so to speak, but they are much more.  In Comebacks at Work, we devote nearly half the book to ways of saving conversations and relationships.  We describe how to engender trust, speak with conviction and demonstrate expertise often all in one or two lines.

And if you think that can’t be done, think of one of Ronald Reagan’s famous responses. He was known as the “great communicator” president.  He would express anger publicly at times, but would also use humor freely.  Both of those, used effectively, elicit trust and the former demonstrates conviction.

During a 1980 presidential debate, Jimmy Carter raised the issue of Reagan’s controversial position on the Medicare Bill.  Reagan didn’t get angry or allow himself to be drawn into a negative discussion.  Instead he smiled and said, “There you go again.” It struck many people as quite humorous, especially in the context of a presidential debate.  In this way he was capable of “neutralizing his ideological foes.”

It’s nearly impossible to be an effective leader in the public eye without being in command of comebacks.  Right now the Democrats are being put out of business in some arenas, including the House, because they appear to consider such reactions beneath them and inappropriate.  Or else they need practice.  In any case, they have significant catching up to do because people don’t believe long explanations unless they already believe the person giving them.

Comebacks at Work:  Using Conversation to Master Confrontation

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