Bring out your best on camera (review of Vern Oakley’s Leadership in Focus)
Your leader is not a robot but he plays one on corporate videos.
On camera, your leader looks like he’s been held against his will and injected with a bucket of Botex.
And he either talks about maximizing bandwidth to leverage synergies that deliver actionable deliverables or he recites motivational posters. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. Problems become opportunities when the right people join together so be the bridge. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.
We don’t expect Oscar-worthy performances from our leaders. All we want is a little emotion, some authenticity and a glimmer of vulnerability.
“Give yourself a break,” Vern Oakley tells camera-shy executives. Oakley is a veteran filmmaker and author of Leadership in Focus who’s worked with thousands of senior leaders. Even executives who excel at town hall meetings and in media interviews can seize up and struggle when it comes to shooting videos.
“It’s OK to stumble and fall. Your audience doesn’t want perfect. They just want to know that you care enough about them to reach out and connect. Our flaws can motivate people to listen more closely to what we have to say.”
Video lets you connect directly with your employees. Yes, research shows that we prefer to get workplace news from our immediate supervisors. But this assumes managers are willing and able to communicate and will stick to the script. That can be a big, and sometimes very wrong, assumption. Like everyone else, your employees spend their days and nights looking at screens. So why not have them stare at you for a few minutes?
“A first step in earning influence is to let your people know who you are – that you’re trustworthy, that you care about them and your shared work, and that you have what it takes to lead them to success,” says Oakley. “The big goal is to reveal who you really are.
“Your people simply won’t follow you if they don’t believe in you. To bond with your audience you need to take off the mask that many of us in leadership positions tend to wear.”
Oakley says an effective video starts with choosing your best method for communicating in a video. You can speak directly into, or look slightly off, camera. You can do an interview with questions either edited out or left in. Or you can be recorded talking at a town hall or as part of a roundtable discussion.
Make nice. “Give a warm greeting. Stakeholders are used to hearing warm and sincere greetings from political leaders, talk show hosts and news anchors. They’ll expect some warmth from you as well.”
Show presence and utilize body language. “Your workforce will respect you as a leader if you show confidence on video. Lean in every so often.”
Be sure to listen if you’re being interviewed on camera. “Everyone, especially employees, needs to know that their leaders take their opinions and points of view seriously and are fully engaged listeners. Ramp up your mindfulness.”
Use humour and lighten up. “A little humour from the boss can take the edge off and go a long way to making work fun again. As a leader, remember, you set the tone.”
Show vulnerability. “It lets viewers see that they’re working for a warm-blooded human who is not afraid to show his or her faults.”
Address the elephant in the room. Know what’s on our minds and buzzing on the grapevine. “Ignoring issues of concern can be interpreted as arrogance or, worse still, a disinterest in the welfare of your people.”
Tell the truth. Be pragmatic and honest and never lie even if the truth hurts. “The more you acknowledge the hard truths, the more appreciative your audience will be.”
Dispel wonkiness and avoid playing inside baseball on camera. “Don’t mistake the use of convoluted operational terms and acronyms as a way to show people you ‘get it’.”
For leaders to be authentic on camera, they first need what Oakley calls a sacred space for the video shoot. “Deep, honest communication can only come through in an atmosphere of trust and respect.” Anyone on set who’s dishing backhanded compliments, outright criticisms or false reassurances to the leader needs to leave.
Bringing out your best on camera takes practice and patience. The payoff from watching and listening to you is us deciding that you’re worth following.
“People won’t want to go to your school, work for you, invest in your company, or do anything else you might ask of them if they don’t see you as someone they can trust and want to follow. Open communication shows you care about your people, your work and your mission.”
This review ran in the Aug. 31 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.