Mitt Romney may be in danger of throwing away his front-runner status in the Republican presidential primary. One reason may be that he is perceived as inauthentic.
Having worked with a number of senior leaders to perfect their communications I have seen many like Romney—bright, informed, and earnest, but lacking a sense of genuine connectedness. Corporate leaders can get away with this because in a hierarchy they give the orders; communicating on a cognitive level is often good enough. But with politicians, the stakes are higher. A politician must communicate on an emotional level, too.
The ability to communicate is not merely the ability to string words together coherently. It is the ability to authentically connect with people. Take Governor Chris Christie. Bold, brash, and in your face, Christie wears his New Jersey roots on his sleeve but you know where he stands. Few pols can work a crowd like he can. He dives in shaking both hands and, if a pesky reporter is nearby, Christie will acknowledge and answer questions, even if he does not want to.
In contrast, Romney—like so many executives—wears his rank on his sleeves. That's why he fails. He acts as if he is above you and me and, you know what, people like you and me know it. And we don't like it.
If you are in charge on organization you may have the ability to tell people what to do, but you will never have the ability to tell them what to think. Great leaders do. They win over followers on the strength of what they say and how they act, and that is why the sincerity of communication is so critical.
So here are some suggestions about how you can connect more authentically with your communications.
1. Shift the focus from you to others. Jerry Seinfeld once told Larry King that the really good comedians were those who were thinking about how people in the audience were enjoying the act. That is what a good speaker does. He thinks about how the message is being received. Treat your audience like guests in your house.
2. Let down your guard. Advice about "being yourself" on stage is nonsense. You are on stage. Unless you are a trouper, it is not a natural place to be. What you can do however is learn to let down your guard. You do it by smiling, breathing normally, and making eye contact with members of the audience.
3. Roll with the punches. When you are asked a question you do not like, do not attack the messenger. Answer as best you can. Rehearse prepared responses to tough questions in advance. Maintain your composure by relaxing facial muscles and breathing normally.
4. Stand tall. Correct posture is essential but so too is presence. You need to look as if you want the responsibility to lead others. That means you speak with authority and conviction and let your body language carry forth your words. In short, you look like you are in charge.
5. Act the part. There is another aspect that reinforces good communications and it is something that presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan mastered: the public persona. Washington loved the spotlight but understood that he must act the part. He rode a white steed and as president rode in a white carriage. He looked regal, presidential.
Ronald Reagan was famously quoted by his biographer Lou Cannon as saying that he did not know how one could be president without being an actor. Since he had been a movie star, he knew how he looked from every angle, and positioned himself to look best. This was not simply out of ego but because he wanted to look the part that people expected him to play.
Good leaders understand that public leadership is public theater, and rather than shy from it, they embrace it—authentically. And so too do their followers.