The Death of a Statesman

The Death of a Statesman

The world lost an important statesman this with week, with the passing of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Why I am choosing to dedicate a post to him is that in today’s day and age, there are too few statesmen, either in politics or in the business world. Moreover, part of our job as practitioners is to position our clients as statesmen –or stateswomen—in their respective industries.

Throughout my career I had about a dozen encounters with Peres where it was myself and maybe one or two others in the room with him. They were centered around events and appearances for clients. Those who know me will also understand that Peres and I would share little in common politically, yet I had a tremendous respect for his intellect, commitment and dedication to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and his “statesmanship.” A few years ago, a client and I met him in an anti-room just before he was to go on-stage at a joint press conference. “What do you want me to say,” he quipped in his deep baritone drawl. We rattled off a few points. He didn’t take a note, yet moments later in stage he stuck explicitly to those messages. When he came off stage, he asked us “So how did I do,” in his unassuming, self-confident and slightly self-deprecating way.

As a communicator, he had an uncanny ability to simplify the message, articulate it not only clearly but with anecdotes and accolades that engaged audiences, and to project a warmth that melted even his most obvious critics. Remember, politics is a contact sport! An example of this were comments made by his political polar opposite this week, the current Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu who said in his office message “…and I loved him.” During his life, Peres shifted from a liberal political leader always scrapping with the opposition, to an elder statesman who became the nation’s grandfather. He shifted from talking about issues that divide to issues that unite. His message became less about the failure of the peace process to more talk about education and economic opportunity for all.

We have so few statesmen in our world today. Certainly the current presidential campaign lacks that luster. Congress is a mess, more polarized than ever –to the point where we cannot even agree to appoint a Supreme Court Justice (who we may not agree with politically, but whose credentials are unimpeachable). What about on the corporate side. Here we can see hope and future. There were legendary business statesmen like Andy Grove of Intel or current ones like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg.

Let’s dissect the characteristics that make a statesman. Intelligence, self-confidence, an understated tone –both in appearance and voice—and maybe most important, a desire to changes lives and help people. How does public relations affect this? We are the keepers of our client message and tone of voice. How do we write the script of their voice? Is there message one of understated elegance, or bombastic bullying? Do we position them as leaders and innovators in their fields of expertise, or are they opportunists? Do they build consensus or destroy those who oppose them?

Each of our clients have the ability to become statesmen in their fields, and we can contribute to building that reputation by finding their tone of voice, helping them develop their messages, using strategic programs to enhance their marketplace positioning and then executing programs that deliver important results.