Why senior managers and politician so often say nothing of interest. 

In my experience when politicians and senior managers talk they chose their words so carefully they can end up saying nothing of interesting, unless it's about themselves. 


As an Assistant Director I would write the speeches for the chair of social services.
I would ask him to open a conference or workshop or address a group of staff about planed changes. He would ask what I wanted him to say, I would talk about what we were trying to get across and he would say," ok write it down but type it in double space because my eyesight isn't so good".  

Bob was a retired miner. It was rumoured that in his youth he had been a professional footballer but that he didn't like to talk about this part of his past life having been prematurely forced out of the game due to a serious injury. 

I got to put words into the chairs mouth. Not as good as you might think. I had to exercise a great deal of self censorship. I couldn't say what I thought about staff who were abusing  our sickness absence policy , the trade union reps who were objecting to lunch time opening of offices or councillors who voted for the home closure strategy in committee but led the campaign against it in their constituency. 


Bob liked to keep things short and simple no corporate speak or management jargon, nothing clever just plain speaking. Every speech he gave I stood next to him nodding in agreement. He was not a great speaker he just read out what I had written. Much as I liked what he said I could tell the audience was uninspired. Staff were pleased that someone of his importance and status had taken the time to talked to them but would have found it much more interesting if he had told them a story about his time in the beautiful game or made some comparison between closing homes and closing mines. 

Despite my words, his insistence on no management jargon and a welcome desire to keep it short Bob was not a great communicator. The real problem as with most speeches by senior management  is constraints imposed by the need to avoid specifics, making commitments, raising anxieties, being too controversial or saying anything that might embarrass the leadership. 

If the leader or the chief executive is one of those autocrats who want to close down any dissent whatsoever then a senior manager who accidentally says the wrong thing knows their future is in jeopardy.  What makes it even trickier is that it's not just careless talk that can cost you your job , it's any talk whatsoever as politicians are quite capable of thinking one thing one day and another the next . The only guaranteed form of survival is to say nothing. 


So why are senior managers keen to write blogs and address staff groups? To tell people what's going to happen, to paint a picture of what the future will look like and what role individuals will play, to explain why things have to change. Yes but mostly it's about being seen, people like to put a face to the name, it is also about image, the image of the organisation and that of its leadership. This comes down to " look you all know me, You can trust me to keep you informed and to listen to your point of view". Which is why my boss was fond of starting any address to staff by telling an amusing story about a recent family holiday in Wales". 



Blair McPherson former local authority Director www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 



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