Thursday, April 26, 2012

Professionalism: It Starts at the Top

I was in Dallas recently for a PRSA Board of Directors meeting where we spent two days planning for and discussing ways in which to ensure our members benefit tangibly from their association with the largest organization in the world representing the public relations profession.

My students in the undergraduate Communication program at Curry Collegeespecially those in the Public Relations Concentration…hear my views on professionalism daily. My graduate students in the Organizational and Professional Communication area at Regis College get the message roughly every other week…for four hours at a time!

I believe that public relations is populated with people who are committed to ethical, high-quality service to clients or employees.

I hope that my own actions personify that belief…teaching by showing!

Back to Dallas.

Our hosts for the weekend, The Richards Group, were phenomenal. Short of my own experience in Hawaii with the Blood Bank of Hawaii, where I headed the organization’s communications activities, this was one of the most uplifting experiences I’ve encountered in quite some time.

It started with agency founder and chief cheerleader, Stan Richards.

Stan obviously…no two ways about it…lives and breathes a deep commitment to encouraging his employees to succeed.

He actually, in the middle of what had to be a typically busy Friday, had an “all hands on deck” meeting so that he could introduce us, the PRSA Board of Directors, to the 600-plus members of his “extended family” of employees…and them to us!!

The experience was, in a word, amazing.

It was obvious that these folks…every single man and woman, junior and senior professional…was proud to be a part of this remarkably successful organization.

And I believe that commitment is a direct result of Stan’s belief in the inherent ability of anyone to succeed if given the opportunity.

That’s the “takeaway” from this experience…the key to success. If you want people…your employees or your co-workers…to succeed…to demonstrate their capabilities as professionals…empower them to do just that.

Trust them to contribute 110% of their energy, enthusiasm, and talent to the task at hand.

Allow them to stretch themselves…to test the limits of their abilities and capabilities.

Encourage them to reach for the stars…to set high goals, to have high expectations for their efforts, and to believe in their ability to work miracles.

I’m sure not everyone will agree with me on this, but I truly do believe in the basic ability of anyone to accomplish great things.

This doesn’t mean that anyone will be able to replicate Michaelangelo’s “David.” Nor is there likely to be another “Mona Lisa” by a genius named “da Vinci.”

But greatness isn’t always a factor of being able to produce one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Sometimes it’s more about the ability to encourage and inspire others to pursue greatness.

That’s where the magic of leadership comes in. Great leaders inspire others to do great things. They show others, through action and example, how to push their own limits and accomplish things that they normally would not believe possible…and do them very, very well.

And that’s what “professionalism” is all about…doing things very, very well.

And that’s what “leadership” is all about…inspiring others to exceed their wildest dreams.

It starts at the top.

"The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on...The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully." - Walter Lippmann, "Roosevelt Has Gone" [April 14, 1945]

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Career and You: "Communication...Write Right"

I’m returning to a topic that I seem to be addressing more and more often…writing.

I just read a piece by a blogger who claims to be a PR professional as well.

He was holding forth with “expert” observation on how we public relations professionals should be communicating with him as an “online resource” for getting publicity for clients or employers.

I quit reading after the first couple of paragraphs.

Got tired of seeing misspelled words, improper punctuation, and just generally sloppy writing.

My students at Curry College, where I head the Communication Department’s undergraduate Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, have heard my opinions on the need to write well.

They also have learned to expect a lot of red ink and snarky comments, especially in senior-level courses, about the third-grade level of their writing if, in fact, it is such.

Sorry, folks. I don’t appreciate, like, or condone crappy writing.

I’m not impressed by the fact that you can dump a bunch of words onto a piece of paper or a computer screen.

What I am impressed by is your attention to detail, which, for me, implies that you are meticulous in your fact-checking and research and that what I am reading is accurate, truthful, and something I can “take to the bank.”

That the fellow I mentioned in the beginning would take such a holier-than-thou attitude when he, himself, obviously didn’t bother to proofread his own work or (perhaps?) is willing to accept shoddy products as long as they are his own is worrisome.

If he represents (and I don’t believe this to be the case…at this point in time at least) the next generation of communicators, we are in deep yogurt.

Communication…both from the public relations perspective as well as from the journalistic point of view…is about delivery of news and information accurately.

To me, that means checking and double-checking facts, rumors…whatever the source…to ensure that accuracy.

When I see obviously incorrect grammar, really sloppy punctuation, or glaring typos in an article or blog post…or news release, I immediately suspect the producer of that work as well as the reliability of the information.

If you didn’t take the time to proofread your own work, what does that imply when it comes to your having verified the source of the information you’ve communicated?

And, contrary to the statement of a young lady in one of my PR classes very early in my teaching career, “someone else” isn’t going to fix the mistakes for you. It’s on your shoulders.

For students who are reading my thoughts today, consider this piece of advice that applies equally whether in the rapidly-evolving online communication arena or in more traditional written communication.

Here it is…I don’t know who you are when I review your written work. All I know is what I perceive about you based on the quality of your writing.

Well-written, concisely-worded work implies that you have devoted thorough research and professional thought. It tells me that you have given your work your full attention and are presenting me with your best.

What does your written work say about you?

"Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory."
Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, Les Natchez [1826], preface

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Your Career and You: "Hard Work...Recognized"

I had the amazing good fortune last week to attend the Lambda Pi Eta National Communication Association Honors Society induction ceremony at Curry College.

Twenty-four young future professionals were welcomed into the Lambda Chi Chapter in recognition of their hard work, dedication to studying…and learning, and scholastic accomplishments.

While most were Communication majors, there was a Management major and a Health Education major, both of whom had a COM minor. And several of the Communication majors had a minor in another area.

Most were regular “day” students, but a couple of the inductees were Continuing Education…working adults who have returned to college to complete their studies.

In addition, a couple were members of my Public Relations Concentration “team”…students who have decided that PR is the career path they want to pursue. And they will succeed!

The very cool part for me was having a chance, as I usually do, to work the room before and after the ceremony, chatting with proud parents and/or fiancĂ©es. The unabashed looks of pride and joy on everyone’s face highlighted the significance of the evening better than anything.

The point here is that long hours of study, combined with enthusiastic participation in numerous on- and off-campus activities (the current Curry College Public Relations Student Association president is this year’s Lambda Chi president, and the CCPRSA treasurer was inducted into Lambda Pi Eta this year...both have also done multiple internships), have been recognized.

For some students, college is all about getting away from home and living “the life.” For others, it’s their first (initially) tentative steps toward adult life and adult responsibilities.

And it’s this second group that I will devote my own time and energy to…pushing and prodding, challenging, questioning, and consoling.


Because they deserve it.

They may not (I didn’t at their age, for heaven’s sake!) really know what lies ahead for them. But they definitely have figured out that the only way they’re going to stand out in the crowd is to stand out in the crowd. And they know this isn’t going to happen unless they work hard while they’re in college.

The old saying, “You get out of something what you put into it” holds true in college as well as in life. And I am doing my level best to help my friends get something for their hard word…to be recognized.

"The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nominalist and Realist"

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Your Career and You: "Learning to Learn"

I never fail to be amazed at the varying levels of interest some of my students show when it comes to actually learning what they’re studying.

The two concepts shouldn’t be mutually exclusive…but they sometimes, to me at least, from my perspective, sure seem to be.

As many of you know, I’m a full-time faculty member at Curry College in the Communication Department, riding herd over the Public Relations Concentration and teaching most of the undergrad PR courses.

I also teach part-time at Regis College in the graduate Organizational and Professional Communication area, but that tends to be a different set of dynamics…with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

Back to the “learning” and “studying.”

It has been a bazillion years since I was fresh out of high school and wending my hesitant way through undergraduate studies at, first, Auburn University (thought I wanted to be an engineering major…HAH!), then Middle Georgia College (had to do some damage repair after a disastrous first year at Auburn!), and…finally...University of Georgia (“Go Dawgs!").

I remember, though, morphing from the studying student to the learning student.

What happened?

Simple...sort of. I finally figured out what I really was interested in…accepted that there were going to be some courses that I initially would have zero interest in…and moved onward.

The courses that I was interested in were a slam-dunk. I knew how they fit into my life plan, and I actually looked forward to diving headlong into the books to read and remember/learn.

The other courses required some analysis and planning. “How might they fit into my world?”

One fortuitous happenstance was that my roommate for my junior and senior years was an 18th-century British history major while I was an 18th-century British literature major.

We played off each other’s interests with lively discussions that wrapped both areas together. We also had a group of friends (finance, biology…) who joined us and filled in the voids in both our spheres of study.

The result was that, even for those courses whose appeal ranked right up there with root canals and appendectomies, we learned a ton and could regurgitate that learning in the classroom on exams, in papers, and in class discussion.

“Studying” is…no argument here…incredibly important. Looking at the materials…exposing yourself to the information contained…must occur.

In public relations, this is known as “awareness,” and it is the first…and easiest...of public relations objectives to accomplish.

But that’s just the first step in the process. As I often say in my classes when discussing problems and opportunities in PR…“now that I’ve caught the snake, what do I do with him?”

To continue the PR analogy, this is where we “separate the men from the boys (or the women from the girls)” with tangible results.

What does this mean for you?

This is truly where the “learning” aspect comes into play. Once you have wrapped your head around the subject matter, you should be able to “connect the dots.”

Then, and only then…have you learned. The material starts making sense (well, maybe not calculus, but you know what I mean!), and you’re able to apply information gleaned from one course to others, and vice versa.

A liberal arts education is about learning something about the arts…the sciences…history…mathematics…the whole shebang.

Armed with that knowledge, you are able to start making sense of the greater “world” and the many influences that you will encounter in your own growth as an individual.

So take your “studying” to a different level…start looking at how the various subjects relate to or impact the others.

Simple starter question: “How many lines in a sonnet?”

Answer: 14.

See? You just called on mathematics to answer a question about poetry!

Cool, no?!?

“All things are filled full of signs, and it is a wise man who can learn about one thing from another.” – Plotinus, “Enneads,” bk. II, treatise iii, sec. 7