Today’s post is a passage from A+ Strategies for C-suite Communications: Turning Today’s Leaders into Tomorrow’s Influencers. Publication date is right around the corner on January 8. A post here early in the new year will outline how you can add your review to Amazon and Goodreads. And don’t forget to spread the news on your digital media channels and blogs and among your colleagues.
Previous excerpts talked about the value of communications strategy and the need for sustained professional development for your leadership. Here, we look at how your CEO can help or hinder your advocacy efforts.
As Mike McCurry, President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, said of A+ Strategies for C-suite Communications, your leadership needs to grasp “the all-important role that strategic communications plays in managing a business or organization, and how to manage relations with government officials, an increasingly vital element of external relations for any senior executive.”
You may be a billionaire. You may have one of the most recognizable names on the face of the earth. You may have a stable of advisors. Congress will not be impressed.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced an immense set of challenges when he ventured to Capitol Hill in April 2018 to testify before a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees and in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
You may well face similar hurdles, though are unlikely to attract the same level of attention as Zuckerberg. Some of his foremost challenges:
- He had never before testified on Capitol Hill.
- He was unaccustomed to dealing with freewheeling Q&A.
- His company was embroiled in a crisis that affects one billion daily users worldwide.
- The prodigy is not the most scintillating public speaker.
- His arrogance leads him to think he’s the smartest guy in the room.
It was interesting to watch how Zuckerberg handled the pressure. This is a tightrope walk for any first-time witness, especially before the often rough and tumble House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The stakes were high not only for Zuckerberg’s personal reputation, but for the success of his company. Its stock price dropped significantly in weeks before his appearance, and a poor performance on the Hill could send it tumbling even further.
The style of the two hearings varied quite a bit, and Zuckerberg seemed somewhat taken aback by the punchier House style. The signs were evident early on when, in his opening statement, ranking minority member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) served up some anti-Republican words. Zuckerberg was smart enough to avoid that game. If two other parties are going at it, sit back and let them tear each other apart.
There are a couple of factors at play here. Senators are accustomed to treating us to windier speeches. They can go on for eons on the Senate floor while House members must adhere to tight time limits.
In addition, members of the House are able to concentrate on their issues more closely. There are 435 of them and only 100 senators, so the law of numbers dictates that the Senate side is spread more thin. What does this mean to you? Questioning on the House side tends to be more informed, and that was evident during Zuckerberg’s hearing. Sure, there are stars and duds on both sides of the Capitol. Generally, however, the House is more detail oriented.
I was also curious during day two whether the CEO would try to humanize himself with a few more smiles and (seemingly) off the cuff bon mots. That didn’t happen, maybe for the better. That is not who Mark Zuckerberg is, at least as far as his public persona is concerned (hey, for all we know, in private he may be the guy at the party with the lampshade on his head). Playing to strengths is important, and if he is not comfortable playing buddy-buddy with members of Congress, no sense in forcing it.
The one time he did smile before the senate committees was when Sen. Durbin began by asking Zuckerberg if he would be comfortable telling senators what hotel he stayed in last night and who he had texted with recently. After a few seconds of squirming, the CEO flashed an uncomfortable smile and demurred. Durbin’s point? Facebook may know which hotels its users frequent and who they text, but Zuckerberg wanted to maintain his privacy.
When the curtain closes on your hearing, exit with grace. Do not do what Zuckerberg did when handed a copy of the constitution by one House member. The CEO barely looked at it, then handed it off to an aide. Bad form.
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