Thursday, February 19, 2009

If a leader speaks his mind, and no one really listens. . .

We all know the favorite pseudo-intellectual questions asked to provoke some type of response:
  • The tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.
  • The chicken and the egg, jockeying for rights on ownership
  • to- MAE- to, to- MAH- to
and so on. How about a respected, intelligent, passionate leader who puts extraordinary effort into both the composition and delivery of a speech . . .and apparently, not too many people really listened.

Oh, the audience was attentive and polite. The occasion was the 2009 "25 Under 35 Movers and Shakers Awards" by Inside Business. My son Kevin was one of the honorees, so along with family and friends, I was happy to attend.

And I go to a few events like this - with clients and friends, sometimes because of a business interest, and sometimes just because of a personal interest. Most speeches are good - the presenters, after all, are leaders and they are very experienced at what they do.

But most of the speeches follow predictable patterns, especially when the topic is economic development, especially when the locale is Cleveland.
  • "We have to work together."
  • "We have so many great assets."
  • "Look at how much better we are than 10 years ago."
More often than not, the speech takes a safe, predictable trajectory and delivery, people applaud politely, and we're all on our way.

I've known Eaton's CEO Sandy Cutler (he's on the right in the photo, Eaton's VP of Strategic Communications Don McGrath is on the left) for over 10 years. He regularly arrived at our studio at 7am for a live broadcast to be beamed to Bloomburg, CNBC and other network for a global business broadcast.

I know Sandy to be a good communicator, I know he seems like a genuine guy, I know he prefers diet Pepsi to coffee in the morning -but I didn't know he had such a fire in his belly for this region.

So when he began his keynote address and it became quickly apparent that this was not to be a "typical" speech, I turned on my Flip Mino HD and began recording. A link to the audio file is included here:

Listen, then answer these questions for yourself:
  • why didn't any of the young leaders seem to take a stand on Cutler's speech? Didn't they know that this CEO of a Fortune 100, publicly traded company was making a huge commitment in making such a speech?
  • Do our young leaders (forget about the older ones, I'm afraid) realize they were being challenged?
  • If a leader tries to lead and the followers are too numb to listen, did that tree fall in the forest, anyhow?