Leadership and Honore: A Reverse Fisking of “Stuck on Stupid”
Lieutenant General Russel Honore gave a press conference today that will be long remembered and will become a part of media relations folklore.
Your Business Blogger has been on both sides of the microphone at a few press conferences. Permit me to ‘reverse fisk’ The General’s performance. Astute observers know that LTG Honore did it right. Here’s what happened on the subliminal level in seven easy lessons.
General Russel Honore
Look at The General. 85% of all communication is non-verbal and even a clueless reporter might understand that the three five-pointed silver stars might be some indication of rank and importance. (Less than one percent of entry level Second Lieutenants will become General Officers.)
The sunglasses normally don’t work for normal people making a presentation. Eye contact is necessary to establish trust in a small group. But The General is not normal; nor is the situation. The General doesn’t need this rule due to this caveat: In this setting the shades are intimidating.
Think Terminator in Aviators.
Lesson One: Own the Microphone. Set the stage.
Here’s some of what The General said at the press conference:
…by order of the mayor and the governor,
Every elected mayor and politically appointed dog-catcher outranks any member in the Armed Services. The General is respectful of the chain of command. Reporters don’t like and don’t understand hierarchy. Just ask their editors.
…and open the convention center for people to come in. There are buses there. Is that clear to you?
It is perfectly clear. And that is what is so refreshing. All General Officers are subject to Senate confirmation. All General Officers are politicians, and usually sound like politicians. But not this one.
There is no doubt who is in charge.
Lesson Two: Direct message.
…Buses parked. There are 4,000 troops there. People come, they get on a bus, they get on a truck, they move on. Is that clear? Is that clear to the public?
Here we see the different agendas of the politico, Mayor Nagin, and the professional, General Honore. The General is using the press conference and the reporters as a public service forum to accomplish his mission. Mayor Nagin merely wants to be liked and re-elected.
[A female reporter asks]: Where do they move on…
[Honore]: That’s not your business.
You cannot wait for all the traffic lights to turn green before leaving town. What The General was saying was that the plan’s end may or may not be detailed at this moment — the important part is to start. The first phase is known. The plan will unfold in phases, not all at once.
This is how the military works. When a unit moves, the subordinate will report up the chain of command when he crosses the “Start Point” at a predetermined time. Woe to the leader who misses the when and where of the starting gate. Missions and objectives always change, but there must be movement to start.
Lesson Three: Know your audience.
[Male reporter]: But General, that didn’t work the first time…
[Honore]: Wait a minute. It didn’t work the first time. This ain’t the first time.
After action reports are evaluated after action. Not during. Not before. The General is wise enough to never criticize the previous commander — not in public, certainly not in a press conference.
You got good public servants working through it.
Praise in public; reprimand in private. The General will soon violate this maxim, gloriously.
You are carrying the message, okay? What we’re going to do is have the buses staged. The initial place is at the convention center. . and that’s where we will use to migrate people from it, into the system.
The General is a professional in his use of the press: to convey the information The General wants reported.
Lesson four: Get Action
[Male reporter]: General Honore, we were told that Berman Stadium on the west bank would be another staging area
[Honore]: Not to my knowledge. Again, the current place, I just told you one time, is the convention center….
Rumor Control. The only feedback The General wants is to know if bad information is disseminated.
Lesson Five: Do not be distracted
Once we complete the plan with the mayor, and is approved by the governor…
Chain of command, again. But it is now obvious who’s running the show.
… Let’s not get stuck on the last storm. You’re asking last storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don’t get stuck on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward…
This is the biggest challenge of press conferences: the collegial need to answer a question. But that’s not always necessary. A reporter’s question should always be handled in one of three ways:
1) I know the answer and here it is.
2) I don’t know the answer and will find it.
3) I know the answer, but I’m not telling you.
The General is using a (very original) version of #3.
…And don’t confuse the people please…help us get the message straight. And if you don’t understand, maybe you’ll confuse it to the people.
Most of the reporters do have the story straight. But good work by The General is not a story. ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ Mayor Nagin was a bloody fool that made great copy. The General is clean. No story.
[A male reporter]: General, a little bit more about why that’s happening this time, though, and did not have that last time…
[Honore]: You are stuck on stupid.
Few ever spoke to the press this bluntly and survived. And every politician would like to demonstrate such bravery. A reprimand in public; real Non-judicial Punishment. It worked.
The General pulled it off. He does not have to be accountable to the Fourth Estate as politicians must.
Lesson Six: Be honest.
I’m not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out.
Version #3, again.
This is the way we’ve got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let’s talk about the future. Rita is happening.
The General is not begging. The General is not sorry. He is using soft wordings as a pillow for the reporter he knocked on his backside.
Lesson Seven: Be Yourself
And we can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months.
Stuck on Stupid has now entered our lexicon and Honore for the history books.
Thank you (foot)notes:
The Accidental Misanthrope has an outstanding review of Leadership vs. Management. Sustitute Nagin for Manager; then Honore for Leader.