Communications chiefs need to be team players

Like him or not, the current President of the United States is an excellent communicator, IMHO, even though I wouldn’t emulate his style. After all, 35 million followers on Twitter can’t be wrong.

However, he’s a poor manager, as evidenced by Anthony Scaramucci’s tumultuous 10 days as director of communications. The “Mooch’s” brief tenure makes the nine months I spent in my first communications director job seem like a lifetime in comparison.

Clearly, Scaramucci was the wrong person for the wrong job. Although he made a fortune in the hedge fund business and was charismatic, he lacked the experience and skills set for the role. It clearly showed. His rough-and-tumble style may work in the deal-driven environment of Wall Street, but it did not fit on the national stage of public affairs.

My own transition from editor of a trade magazine to director of communications for a trade association did not go the way I had hoped. My perception on the role was shaped by the interactions I had with hundreds of public relations and communications professionals over my career as a reporter and editor. I viewed media relations as their main role.

How little I knew? My new job included member communications, producing marketing tools for the industry and promoting the organization’s main event, an annual conference. I also had to contend with a difficult boss who thought of himself as a good communicator but couldn’t be clear with staffers about what he wanted.  He had gone through five communications directors before me in just seven years .

What I learned, but Scaramucci apparently did not, was that the job isn’t about you. It’s about your employer or client and, especially, its leader. It’s also about being part of a team of equals whom you want to have your back even while everyone may be jockeying for position. The President’s new chief of staff recognized Scaramucci wasn’t a team player so he got rid of him.

Communications is critical to leadership, but not every leader is a great communicator, and vice versa. Even when leaders know how to communicate, their time is often spread too thin to be effective. A communications advisor who gets what his or her client is trying to say and can develop messaging and a communications strategy around it that resonates with diverse stakeholders is as important to an organization as a good lawyer or accountant.

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