Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
November 19, 2009

Developing a Strategic Mindset: How to Become a Trusted, Strategic Adviser

“Developing a Strategic Mindset: How to Become a Trusted, Strategic Adviser” — The best session you may have missed because you were too focused on social media.

A recurring theme of public relations practitioners over the years has been our deep desire to get a seat at the table. You know, THE table. This c-suite destination has been much heralded and held up as our industry’s version of the Promised Land.

In James Lukaszewski’s Effective Tools & Techniques session, “Developing a Strategic Mindset: How to Become a Trusted, Strategic Adviser” at the PRSA 2009 International Conference, he gave the capacity crowd in attendance a tremendous amount of insight about getting there.

In my opinion this was the most important session of the entire Conference. Beyond all of the wanderlust about social media and advanced technologies now being leveraged in our industry, being a strategic and trusted adviser to bosses, CEOs and clients should never be overlooked, over-hyped or undervalued.

As a notable practitioner and seasoned counselor to CEOs and other titans of business, Lukaszewski started out his session by plainly telling the room that the table at which everyone is aspiring to get a seat doesn’t actually exist. He shared a humorous story that a CEO once asked him if he had heard of this table and if he could tell him where it was located.

Although this could be equated to a “What? Santa Claus doesn’t exist?” moment for the PR pros in the room, Lukaszewski reassured everyone by saying that we’re at the “table” when we are meeting with company leadership, one-on-one or otherwise, and providing meaningful and relevant counsel.

As Sara Meaney likes to say about sessions that include way too much information, Lukaszewki’s presentation almost suffered from “fire hosery.” I looked around the room a couple times to see everyone frantically taking notes in a way that I haven’t seen since my college days. This fact does not, at all, take anything away from his presentation. Because of this, there is no way that I could possibly share every detail he shared, but here are some highlights.

The Top Things That Leaders Are Looking for in Strategic Counselors

  1. Advice on the spot — Management is a real-time activity. It happens now, so leaving a meeting and offering recommendations later in the day isn’t valuable to them.
  2. Say things that matter from the boss’s perspective … not your perspective — Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. When you offer advice and talk in meetings, you have to ask yourself — Is this really important? Is this what we’re here to talk about? 
  3. Provide focus — In meetings you may need to pull leaders back and get them centered on what’s important and relevant in the problem/issue you are discussing right now.
  4. Leaders want help with things they don’t already know — Pointing out the obvious isn’t valuable. What can you bring to the table that is lacking?
  5. They want options to consider — If you only offer one option they will likely question it to death, so give them other ideas that can work.
  6. Bosses want help with what to do next — They already know what has happened. Give them ideas on what the company should do and offer insight about what will happen because of it.

Our presenter also stressed the importance of verbal skill when working with corporate leaders. He often makes sure he isn’t talking too much and that when he talks he makes sure it is important and it matters. He calls verbal skills the currency of the business world.

No session on strategic thinking could be held without a definition or two of strategy. He offered his own: Mental energy verbally injected into an organization through communication that moves it forward. And one from Jack Welch, the past CEO of GE: A core or significant idea moving through changing circumstances.

After presenting this, Lukaszewski dived into reasons why strategies fail. If you’ve spent any time with bosses, and most of us have, we already know one of the main reasons: The strategy was not developed with the boss’s input first. It’s a good reminder though. Another reason includes: neglecting to deal with the truly tough stuff. This could also be referred to taking the easy way out.

To help the room take a strategic approach to meeting with business executives he offered a way to break down the discussions into its most important parts to avoid wasting time and making sure you are able to offer appropriate counsel:

James Lukaszewski’s Three-minute Conversation Drill

Part 1: Explanation/description — Give a snapshot of the current situation and what you are presenting. (30 seconds of speaking time)

Part 2: Analysis — Share why you are talking about this. What’s the threat, urgency? (30 seconds)

Part 3: Goals — They want to know where they’re going — now. (30 seconds)

Part 4: Options — Provide three ideas/concepts that they can consider. These ideas should always fall into the following categories A) doing nothing, B) doing something with 100 percent effort and C) doing something more with 150 percent effort. (60 seconds)

Part 5: Recommendations — Offer insight into which option you would choose. (30 seconds)

Part 6: Justifications — Why that one option over another? (30 seconds)

In the end, Lukaszewski offered some great insight into helping our profession provide meaningful and relevant information in ways that our senior leaders, CEOs and client will respond to achieve the best possible outcomes — finding a solution and positioning you as a trusted, strategic adviser.

Al Krueger, founder, partner and right brain, Comet Branding + PR. Prior to founding Comet in 2007, he was the director of public relations for a branding communications agency, national brand manager for a large leisure travel company and a brand coordinator for Wisconsin’s largest health care system, among other roles. Together with business partner Sara Meaney, he is the co-host to Comet Branding Radio, a weekly Internet radio show that shares and discusses the progressive and evolving elements of marketing, public relations and social media, and features thought leaders from around the country. He sits on the board of directors of the Eisner American Advertising Museum and is the co-founder of the Social Media Club of Milwaukee.

For coverage of the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, visit our Conference blog or follow the conversation on Twitter at hashtag #prsa09.

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