A Consistent Message

By Chris Chittenden

"If you're proactive, you don't have to wait for circumstances or other people to create perspective expanding experiences. You can consciously create your own."

… Stephen R. Covey (1932 - ) consultant and author

Recently there was a show on TV here in Australia called “The Gruen Transfer” that took a light-hearted yet interesting look at the world of advertising. Watching this show got me thinking about the relationship between advertising and leadership.

At first glance it may not appear that the two subjects have a lot in common, yet when seen in the light of the ideas that we shared recently about spatial leadership it becomes clearer. In many ways, advertising is not aimed at a one-off message rather it is designed, at least in part, to create a context through ongoing exposure. We are not expected to go out and buy a particular brand of car simply because we see an advertisement once. With repeated exposure to a certain line of advertising we start to associate certain purchases with aspects of our life that are important to us. The advertising agencies who create these ads are seeking to generate certain stories about their clients and trigger certain emotional responses in those people they think will buy their products. They are looking to create certain meaning for the person watching. Clearly this works as billions of dollars are spent each year in advertising in this country and around the world.

In many ways, the idea of spatial leadership presents leaders with a similar challenge. Leaders are seeking to create meaning for people in a way that compels them to action. Not a purchase as in the case of most advertising rather cooperative action towards certain goals. Yet how often do you get the sense that the leaders of your organisation are presenting a clear and consistent message to build such a context and create meaning. My guess would be that not many people would see their leaders doing this. Rather, most tend to have occasional events or communications such as newsletters aimed at creating a sense of leadership. Although these efforts have some value they do not really serve the purpose of generating a clear and consistent meaning within which people can work.

The opportunity here is for leaders to be clear about what simple meaning they are trying to create within their organisation and to use every situation to develop that. For example, say a leader feels their team is too reactive in the way they operate and they want to create a more proactive attitude. To do this they can add to the explicit messages of being proactive by using certain key messages during as many conversations as possible. Amongst other things they can listen for reactive or “moving away” responses and pepper their language with words such as “proactive”, “create” and “initiate” to generate a sense of creating rather than responding. Over time a new context can be created for people within that group regarding how they operate. The key is simplicity and repetition.

Were you aware that the average American adult is exposed to over 3000 ads per day? No doubt these figures would be the same in most first world countries and it leads to the question of the role that advertising unwittingly plays in the life of each one of us.

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© 2008 Chris Chittenden