I was recently listening to a radio interview with ‘Pardon The Interruption’ co-host Michael Wilbon where he referenced a conversation with Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo as they discussed ‘Mental Toughness.’ The focus of the conversation centered upon the need or requirement for mental toughness in a variety of jobs and occupations. Mr. Wilbon provided a few brief examples, but it immediately triggered my thought process toward the field of Public Relations and the often precarious job of both military public affairs officers, government, and civilian professional communicators.
As a career military Public Affairs Officer who has seen time both in private and government sectors of the career field, I have come to know what works and what doesn’t; as well as gain a knack for seeing around the corner, anticipating the moves on the chessboard before they happen. This is a critical asset to possess when dealing with the life and breadth of an organization, brand, or political office. And most any PA worth their weight will tell you, while you can spend time and money going to the top-rated schools and taking all the right classes, the best education you’re ever going to receive in the field is actually getting out there and executing. It’s all in the building of relationships, understanding your audience, and listening for clues on how to solve problems - both short term and over time. The key is - having an adequate toolbelt with which to draw strength from.
Toolbelt? Yes, the proverbial waist-brace you carry with you at all times on the job that holds your apparatus of choice. And here’s how you benefit from keeping your ‘toolbelt’ handy -
1. Your tools are what separate you from those less-capable to execute the job at hand. Now this doesn’t mean you possess the latest and greatest gadgets or the most expensive on the market, NO! Carrying your “tools” means you have in your possession at all times, a worthy dose of internal talent and know-how to get you over the next hurdle or through the next round of decision-making. Make certain you understand the clear distinction. Measure thrice, cut once. Ensure as you go out there and execute on any level, you’re doing so with a mind-set to achieve the greatest possible outcome from the tools you have. Also, know that the more you work with these tools and create a familiarity with their performance and nuance, you will be more honed in as a professional in your craft to maneuver at greater speed and efficiency within any given environment.
2. Exercise the ability to sharpen and market your intuition. As I mentioned earlier, no matter the sector you operate in, being a PR professional requires vision. We often find that being one step or more in front of the opposition or simply being prepared for the contingency is what separates your organization from becoming a devalued brand or consumed by a news story you can’t move off from. Take the time to develop the tool of intuition and foresight. Is it creating magic - perhaps - but it’s more so taking advantage of key elements within your audience in order to dictate and manipulate behaviors based on your complete understanding of emotions, desires, and value templates.
3. What’s that voice I hear? Listen to what the tools of time and experience are saying to you. Every new PA or marketing professional I come across has an idea or concept they feel is going to turn the boardroom on its head. We should all be so lucky. The greatest challenge many young PAOs face in the field is gaining an understanding of the ‘tumultuous and unpredictable’ communication environment we find ourselves attempting to traverse. Well-seasoned PA practitioners, long-served by the sustainable and solid mold for the wheel, find themselves shell-shocked by an information environment moving faster and operating with less of a focus centered on fact-based data collection. Prepare yourself to be the lone wolf who is ready AND willing to be the voice of dissention when the corporate galley becomes the bobblehead affirmation society. Ask yourself - Am I prepared to go it alone for the sake of maintaining VALUE for leadership and the organization as a whole.
4. Context. Keep this in your toolbelt. It’s where simple statements and ideas become policy and trademark behavior. Without it, you’re only offering the car on the lot. You have to do what it takes in order to ensure your customer is seen executing at a high level of performance with confidence in the vehicle you’ve put them in. This takes research, time, and energy. When you develop a proclivity to enhance the pitch and consistently exercise your ability to combine savvy with real knowledge of audience needs, then you’re well on your way to success on delivery and a well-built establishment.
5. Yes, mental toughness. Keep this in your toolbelt at all times. Because whether you’re in the NCAA tournament or steering your organization through crisis, someone has to be the unflappable, mitigating presence when the oscillating fan of life is hit with an unforgiving substance. It takes a solid grasp of how to operate in an unpredictable field and knowing which tool to use and when. Take hold of the stake you own in communicating your messages and securing the market value of your institution. This is when you grab your toolbelt and get to work.