Winston Churchill would fit in perfectly with today’s social media culture. His style was to communicate constantly, interpreting events as they unfolded, and explaining what he intended to do in real time. Churchill’s astute observations and keen wit helped to build his towering reputation as a great leader. Although public speaking was the primary medium of the day, Churchill was a prolific writer who came up with some of the best, less-than 140 character quotes in history. Consider this example at a mere 90 characters:
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
A true leader has the ability to communicate a vision and set a new course of action during times of crisis. Today CEOs and senior executives have to work harder than ever to communicate their vision, because the entire structure of communications is irrevocably changed. Twitter takes the pulse of our culture, Facebook documents the minutia of our lives, and LinkedIn tracks our every career move.
We now expect heads of companies to talk to us directly online, to engage in brand discussions, and to respond to questions in real time. But many CEOs are notoriously reluctant to engage in social media. The confidence to share ideas and enter into public discussions does not come easily. The idea of opening up to customers, constituents, and colleagues can be unnerving for business leaders who are used to having complete control over messages.
Executives willing to engage in social media understand that interacting directly with constituents is empowering. Churchill’s gift was to use language to persuade and sway public opinion toward his way of thinking. Business leaders today have the potential to use words and ideas to build follower communities of loyal brand enthusiasts.
Twitter streams create a personal narrative, allowing executives to be seen as real people. This skill can be learned and integrated into a company’s communications strategy. Through social channels CEOs have the ability to directly influence public perception about themselves and their brands. As Churchill succinctly put it (in 73 characters):
“There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion.”
Today, we are all engaged in writing our own history, one tweet at a time. That history includes defining who we are as people, as corporate citizens, and as leaders. In a relationship economy, people are looking for a reason to work with you, to buy your products and to trust you. With social media, CEOs can shine a light on all the good they are doing for their company, community, employees, and customers. Developing a culture where executives are forthcoming and transparent and willing to communicate will change the leadership dynamic forever.
If Winston Churchill were on Twitter, this quote would have certainly gone viral:
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”