For effective communication you must be heard. Someone, or some group, must be listening. No listening, no communication. Optimize listening, and you’ve got an audience. One of the criteria of attracting attention and being listened to is the character, knowledge and authority that derive from the integrity of the speaker.
Persuasive advertising provides an example of how this works. It begins by being heard in a crowded room, and advertising’s room is crowded in many ways. One technique is to select an authority to be your spokesperson or offer a testimonial. If word of mouth is the best advertising, then this is a close second, providing a better chance to be heard above the others. The lesson applied—how to distinguish yourself among many—is the one we want to apply.
Integrity and The Babe
Babe Ruth remains an iconic figure in baseball and in America’s culture. Long the greatest homerun hitter, he was a giant, nearly literally and most figuratively. Despite his legendary oversized lifestyle, he built integrity as the best in his field. Baseball fans know that even before he became an outfielder so that he could play everyday, he was a pitcher, and long-held the world series record for most wins.
You are a new baseball bat manufacturer. How will you get people to purchase your bat, when the Louisville Slugger is the most well-known name in the game? You want people to listen to you. What do you do? Get The Babe. All he needs to do is pick up your bat, swing that thing around a few times, look at it lovingly, and say, “This is the baseball bat I use when I play for the New York Yankees.” Others agreed. In fact,
Ruth happily accepted many advertising offers. He endorsed everything from cereal to Girl Scout cookies to soap. He had his own line of candy bars and pushed “Babe Ruth” brand All-American, all-cotton underwear though he only wore custom-made silk undershorts. He appeared on advertisements for Old Gold cigarettes despite the fact that he never smoked anything but cigars. Eventually, Ruth’s endorsements became so plentiful that he had to hire a business manager and an accountant in order to keep track of all the money he was making on the side.
—The Babe Ruth Times, “A Marketable Commodity: Selling Babe Ruth to America”
Of course, a paid testimonial may dim the credibility of the message. Even though you have the right person saying the right things, the ultimate effectiveness is reduced because they have been “bought out.”
Bully For You
The incumbent president is said to enjoy the benefits of “the bully pulpit,” an oft-used phrase first coined by Theodore Roosevelt. For detractors of any sitting president, the president’s message is filtered through likes and dislikes. Yet, with the prestige and authority conferred upon the office, particularly in times of crisis, the president receives due deference; with each word, phrase, and subject magnified in importance. As you rise through your profession, the integrity you bring to the job will provide you with your own bully pulpit upon which to communicate and persuade others.
Where Knowledge and Authority Live
This brings us to integrity, the roof under which knowledge and authority dwell. Even when your spokesperson is paid, the greater the perceived integrity of that person, the more powerful the messenger and the message.
Integrity has multiple meanings, with a thread that forms a connection. One is the moral/ethical component. It is the issue of character. Of honesty. It is difficult to measure the building blocks that comprise it, and easier to spot the lapses that create damage. Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett, aka, The Sage of Omaha, has spoken about the value of integrity and character in business. He can be found on YouTube, speaking to MBA students on the subject.
Said Buffett, “I look for three qualities in hiring people. Integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first then the last two will kill you, because if they don’t have integrity you want them dumb and lazy.”
Yet, even Buffett has had his reputation buffeted. Questionable decision making resulted in bad press when he became aware of questionable insider-trading, conducted by then Berkshire Hathaway executive David Sokol. Sokol had once been considered a probable successor to Buffett. But he did not live up to his own oft-quoted statement “Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding; lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless.” Although it was trust he held for his colleagues that allowed the problem to occur, Buffett did go on record in admitting his mistake.
The other meaning for integrity defines something tangible, and measurable. The solidity of a material, or structure. Even a business can be said to have integrity, measured by the profit-and-loss statement, cash flow, and net worth. The two meanings may converge. A business may have financial integrity, and may have developed intangible assets, called goodwill, based on a reputation of honesty and trust. A history of quality and reliability, or innovation, may translate into customer loyalty; all derived from integrity. When that company makes a new product announcement, it will enjoy the essential elements of effective communication—they will have a listening audience.
An example of how integrity provides a person with the ability to communicate by being listened to is illustrated with the product announcements of the late Steve Jobs, and the words, pronouncements, and prognostications of Warren Buffett. It’s true, however, that success may confer a transient integrity. A company may be the industry leader one year, and because of the speed of innovation, and the components necessary to maintain competitive advantage, that same company may be operating in the red within several product generations later.
Jim Collins, author of From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . And Others Don’t, addressed the need for integrity within an organization. Collins gave it a name when he said, “All great companies are brutally honest with themselves.” With brutal honesty, it is not merely being honest in what one says, but, “You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” This approach is difficult. We tend to want to look good, at all times. So, Collins’s advice may run against what may at first be seen as running counter to conventional wisdom—if not of the marketplace, at least that of the prevailing corporate culture.
Apple, who was closely aligned with IBM/Motorola’s Power PC, made the switch to Intel partly because they saw the advantage to having their computers capable of running software from Microsoft—their competition. It was an admission that relates to brutal honesty. The decision to make change, to say, “I was wrong,” “We were wrong,” or “We’re changing plans,” confers a degree of integrity that may translate as an example of leadership, and attract the attention of the right audience: investors, customers, employees, and other relevant stakeholders.
The integrity necessary to express brutal honesty does not necessarily mean the next view is the correct view. But, if listening is essential, it reveals a person or organization who understands the power of listening—and, therefore, of being listened to.
With this integrity, your colleagues, supervisors, board of directors, or wider group of stakeholders or the media, will be compelled to listen and evaluate. You have effectively leapt over an essential hurdle in effective business communication, you have been listened to. Even if your view is not the prevailing one, or meets with great push-back, the good news is that you’ve been listened to. You’ve been heard. In business, effective communication runs two ways. Feedback to your communications, even if it has the difficult sound of brutal honesty, should be encouraged, and acknowledged. It strengthens one’s integrity. And you reap the added benefit of keeping your megaphone for use another day.
Integrity on the Job
Build your base of knowledge and authority: Become known as the go-to expert in your field. Take classes. Enroll in more training. Document your in-service training. Study. Subscribe to professional journals, blogs, websites. Write on your subject of expertise. Speak in public.
The authority you carry, will mean that when you talk, people will listen.
Be a builder-upper, not a tearer-downer: Integrity is a component of leadership. In meetings, be attentive to others, and pay close attention to what they contribute. Credit them for their good ideas. As you grow in your career, take your colleagues with you. Mentor others, and encourage them to follow your model. Allow yourself to extend your expertise in the growth of your department, company, or profession.
The authority you carry will mean that when you talk, people will listen.
Share success, accept failure: Integrity as an aspect of character means that you are generous in success, and capable of shouldering the blame. In the long run, you will be marked as an individual people can trust, and trust is the currency of good business.
The authority you carry will mean that when you talk, people will listen.