Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Pundits are Driving Me Crazy!

I’m a news junkie as all things related to leadership fascinate me. But the latest cacophony among the pundits about the effectiveness and management of various bail-out plans is becoming unbearable. It’s like going into a noisy room where everyone is talking over each other and at times screeching. Look around and all you see are white teeth, coiffed heads and perfect make up (for the women). No one looks real but they all give the air they know what they are talking about.

Pundits to me are those we see on TV stations like CNN over and over again who have an opinion about everything. Every move by Barack Obama’s administration is dissected to an inch of its life.

I get the impression that results must occur instantly otherwise the strategy must be wrong or it is not being handled properly. The pundits spend their time on the minutia and seldom raise their heads to put the situation into perspective. It’s like a running travelogue with no sensible reference to history, context and what we know about how change happens.

While experienced leaders recognize that resistance after about 30 days of the initiation of a major change is to be expected, I’m not getting that the pundits know this. In fact, in the absence of a balanced view on current events, they are the resistance!

In these difficult times, I expect media to play more than an obstructionist role. Help us sort out the complexities and see some light. Role model healthy dialogue so that we can replicate this locally in our homes and social meeting places. Respect those who are elected and the challenges they face. See how you can help them move things forward by balanced and knowledgeable reporting. Give those who have a deeper knowledge more air time.

For these reasons, I’ve turned to the BBC, CBC and digital media for calmer and deeper conversations. The interviewers and contributors tend to question and explore as a rule rather than tear down. I pick and choose my CNN encounters for such interviewers. Fareed Zakaria and others like him come to mind.

Who knows, I may become a digital junkie to widen my choices as that seems to be the way of the world! The spring issue of Strategy + Business Online makes it clear that online media is gaining rapidly in popularity particularly among the younger generations. Many are online while watching TV. They skip through ads with the aid of their digital video recorders looking for content that suits their interests.

From an advertising perspective, their habits are transforming the business. It took 127 years for newspapers to reach US$120 billion in ad revenues in the U.S. Cable television took 25 years. Online media has accomplished that amount in 13 years.

This more diversified media picture fits well with emerging research on “how to have influence”. In the fall 2008 MIT Sloan Management Review, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield and Andrew Shimberg conclude that leaders who “combine multiple sources of influence are up to 10 times more successful at producing substantial and sustainable change”. Extrapolating to current events, although it looks like he’s biting off more than he can chew, Barack Obama’s “strategy” appears to align with these findings. Time will tell.

These are “wild west” times. “Settlers”, like some of the pundits, demand data before they accord the courtesy of support and encouragement. As in the past, it is the “pioneers” who forge new, sustainable paths. No proof. Just hard work and persistence in the face of the unknown. It’s a formula applicable to every leader in every organization.

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