Basic principles of talent in public relations are that it is not innate, it takes years of deep practice to become excellent and inherent, sustained motivation is vital. Leadership must praise effort not talent, emphasise that abilities can be transformed through application and challenges are learning opportunities, not threats.
Perhaps most importantly, “failure is a great opportunity for improvement”. To which I would add: the only fail is failing to give it a go.
If you’re wondering which PR textbook this came from, then you’ll be wondering for a while. These assertions come from a Football Federation Australia kids coaching resource. Practicing public relations is not that much different to coaching kids at football, it seems! Mind you, I’ve written previously on the analogousness between mentoring and teaching children at sport and the business environment of PR.
There is not much point in recognising the truth in some of the points above, however, unless they are put in practice. And this is where leadership must manifest itself. It is about doing, not preaching; about being the change, not handing out instruction books on it.
The principles of excellence in PR
Scientific research has identified the following:
- While geniuses (Messi being the one who comes to mind most immediately) do very rarely come along, most outstanding performers don’t inherit special genes from birth
- All world class performers have a history of deep practice
- No excellent performer has reached their pinnacle without possessing intrinsic and sustained motivation.
It has been asserted by one scientist it takes 10,000 hours – or ten years – of practice to reach a level of excellence in any field. Yes, the quality of that practice is imperative, but informal or ‘non-professional’ forms of practice (e.g. kicking the ball around with your dad/son in the backyard, writing important emails) can be just as important as formal practice.
I think writing posts for this blog is an example of informal practice:
- It prompts me to think more deeply about aspects of my professional than I might otherwise have done
- It is clearly writing – the single most important skill in public relations – practice
- I would like to think it helps me in becoming a better leader as I have to weigh up arguments supporting or dissenting against different perspectives.
Without excellent leadership, public relations is ineffective
Leadership is a vitally important aspect of many of the points raised above:
- If the quality of practice is important, then we need excellent leaders to make sure we are undertaking work which is effective, imaginative and delivers outcomes in line with business strategies and organisational positioning
- The only way practitioners get a chance to really develop and to understand their capabilities, is to be given opportunities to stretch themselves. If they fail – partially or wholly – in the process then they have had the best learning opportunity they could ever have had. This is dependant, of course, on being given the support to help them improve and being provided with a safety net (through the leader)
- Praising effort should always come before praising talent. Talent is meaningless unless it is put to good use. It cannot be put to good use without effort. Talent will last only so long, then it will wither without effort and application. It’s a bit like the tortoise and hare – we know who one that duel.
Another reason for praising effort over talent is that if effort is perceived as being second best then the majority of people are at risk of feeling marginalised and disrespected. This is because most of us rely on effort to achieve. And if the majority are left to languish in the shadows of praise prioritised towards the talented, then the majority will not be incentivised to achieve.
Motivation is vital to help achieve excellence. And I’m not talking performance reviews or objectives. Motivation must be intrinsic, not imposed. Methods to help stimulate this motivation include:
- excellent role modelling from the leader
- recognition of effort
- encouraging a mindset which embraces mistakes, rather than avoiding their implications and shying away from them, using the opportunity to get better.
Commercial benefits of applying football excellence in PR
The efforts and outcomes achieved by the majority will be of greater commercial benefit to an organisation than that of the – very rare – person who relies primarily on talent, rather than hard graft.
This should not be taken as meaning the practitioner relying on practice rather than natural talent cannot be creative or imaginative. Far from it.
Creativity is often stimulated from insights which come through a deep familiarisation with content and the task at hand.
Intuition itself becomes even more honed after years of practice. This can help deliver insights more quickly than those without practice. Those who more quickly develop intuitive and insight-identification skills are – or should be – those who are considered for leadership roles. It saves time (= money) and provides a foundation for empathy.
Not only is empathy a characteristic of the excellent public relations practitioner, it is a characteristic of an excellent leader.
What is your view of the analogies I have drawn here, essentially looking for similarities between practicing PR and coaching kids football? What ‘non-professional’ factors do you draw upon when considering business activity? Should professionals be given opportunities to make mistakes or should we never put a business in that position?
Reference: many of the notions referred to in this post are captured in Football Federation Australia’s Game Training Certificate participant manual.