It takes barely a moment watching the video of Patricia Harrison speak for her passion and charisma to grab you. After recently interviewing her for Let Go & Lead, I can tell you her affect is even more dynamic when you meet her in person! It’s no wonder that throughout a career in and around government, she has so graciously transcended politics to connect people to issues bigger than themselves: she has a one-of-a-kind way about her!
But, as immense as her presence is, one thing that struck me about Pat was how much of her power she derives from listening.
In our conversation, Pat and I talked about different insights she has acquired throughout her career, and in her current role as CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In particular, Pat shared thoughts about the power of good storytelling and the nature of community building that resonated with a point I often try to raise to corporate leaders I counsel. In her case, she explained that as she’s regularly gone across the country to connect with various communities on what they seek in terms of public broadcasting content, she has felt time and again that what you hear is just as important as what you say. I suspect this is because she intuitively understands that good storytelling (and communications generally) rests less with the story you are telling than with the relationship you’re building.
Recently, I joined a team of colleagues to help think through an issue one of our clients is facing. Like many companies in today’s environment, this one – an iconic global brand – is slumping a bit right now: their stock price has sagged, external pressures and critiques are mounting, and morale has dipped. This negative climate has, as a result, made some executives reticent to go out and communicate with employees. As would seem natural, they’re waiting until they have good news to tell.
While we can all sympathize with the reasons why they’re holding out (no one likes to be the bearer of bad news), they’re missing the point. The purpose of telling stories, ultimately, is to forge a connection, and strong connections are born out of honest and authentic dialogue, not simply out of good news.
Not every leader is born with Pat Harrison’s incredible ability to light up a room. But, if they try, anyone can lend an ear, and, she would be the first to tell you, that can go a very long way.