Communicators as Change Makers

Last week, I had the great pleasure of presenting the closing keynote at the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)’s Leadership Institute in Dallas. It was such an honour to have the opportunity to connect with IABC’s global community of volunteer leaders who come together once a year to build leadership skills and plan strategies for taking the Association forward.

My talk was on Communicators as Change Makers – about how communications practitioners can rise up and make meaningful change by moving from strategy to execution.

I kicked off my presentation describing how we, as communications professionals, often feel that we are treated like short order cooks – working in a chaotic, confined space, with our creativity stifled, as we put out fires and are continually subjected to people barking random orders at us.  Basically, we get no respect.

Of course, none of us went into communications because we wanted this kind of existence. What we really want, is to be communications rock stars! We want to do work that matters, we want to work to the full scope of our abilities, we want to make a difference, and hopefully have a little fun while we’re at it.

While we are united in this common aspiration, and in the pursuit of building the skills and confidence we need to become invaluable strategic contributors, we’ve also learned that the story can’t end there. We can’t stop when we come up with the big idea, or when we write the strategy – where the rubber hits the road for us is to have the discipline, the guts and the focus to implement them. That’s where the critical capability is needed.  It’s moving to the next level of strategic communications and working as an effective change maker.

I went on to introduce a Change Maker’s Playbook to offer some ideas on how to step up and lead change. Here are the main elements of the framework:

Get Out Of Your Own Way – The very first place to start is to recognize that so often, we are our own worst enemies. We tend to have self-limiting beliefs and (for many women in the profession especially), we’ve been conditioned to “shrink to fit”. Any path forward to becoming a change maker has to start with silencing the nagging voice in your head that whispers “Who… me? Who am I to do this? What do I know?” You’ve got to step up, steel your resolve and just do your best. It’s all any of us can ever do.

Leap Before You’re Ready – The change maker has to get comfortable with the uncomfortable reality of working in ambiguity. In my experience, you’ll never be fully ready to jump into leading a change, and if you stall, waiting for all the information to be available, all the details clarified and all the resources buttoned down, you’ll nowhere. You’ll be stuck hiding, standing on the edge, and that’s not on. Change makers are not about waiting around, they’re about action.

Find Your North Star – Leading change is exciting, but it’s also uniquely exhausting. Fueling change requires a constant source of positive energy. And that energy has to come from your sense of purpose, your North Star – the sense of meaning you feel in leading your initiative forward. When you hit the invariable sloggy slog of change – those low points of frustration and discouragement you’ll encounter along the way – connecting with your North Star will push you through, and move you forward.

Navigate Without a Map – In order to succeed as a change maker, you have to be able to keep steering, even when you lose familiar reference points and boundaries. It’s the difference between strolling through a manicured walking path and hacking your way through the jungle. You are creating a path forward where none existed before. You’ve got to expect a few scrapes and bruises along the way. But as long as you know where you’re going, you have your passion driving you and your North Star guiding you along, you’ll get there.

Focus on the Bright Spots – One of the most important skills for a change maker is to cultivate the ability and habit of focusing on the bright spots. When facing a challenge, the brain naturally tends to zoom in on all the barriers and problems we’re facing. But if you want to drive change forward, you’ve got to turn this around and relentlessly focus on the bright spots. Force yourself to shut down the negativity and instead, dial into what’s working. Keep in mind that it’s always easier to build on success than on weakness.

As a long-standing member of IABC, I was moved to see the level of volunteerism and commitment showcased in Dallas. The session wrapped up with a call to individual action, standing on the shoulders of the success of IABC, its thousands of past volunteers and its decades of success in service of the global communications community.