What the Show ‘Covert Affairs’ Can Teach Leaders.
Covert affairs is a spy show about CIA operatives. A few years ago I learned a hard lesson when I failed to ask a very important question while media were gathered around a significant event; “What’s the protocol?” This question appears a lot in Covert Affairs.
Let me explain. As the Chair Person of a Board of Directors of a not-for-profit, I was given the honour of leading a ground-breaking ceremony for a new school being erected that served preschool children with disabilities and their families. I will admit, it was a great feather in my cap personally, and I was extremely proud to see the model moving to the building of a school, when all previous expansion had been through purchase of an existing building or rental. I had spent almost 10 years with this organization and saw it grow from one building serving 173 children to the building of a 6th school that would eventually assist over 900 Children with disabilities. I was very proud of that growth, especially since during that time the organization successfully maintained the importance of focus on the child with an 83+ percentage of outcomes reached.
As a leader intent on supporting the good work of the team, I don’t particularly care for the focus on me, but as an ambassador of the organization it was occasionally my job to showcase the organization to groups. What I had never done before was a ground breaking ceremony. I worked hard in preparation, the Development team had prepared a schedule, a script, reviewed my speech, and I’d practiced until I was blue in the face. They had a wonderful child there who would be helping with the ground-breaking and many community individuals, dignitaries and media had been invited. The event had been very well organized and I was amazed at all that went into it. I just had to show up and be the spokesperson.
What I forgot to ask about the dignitaries and their respective roles, was; “What’s the Protocol?”
My role had always been to highlight the organization and its history, to use real and compelling examples of children and their progress, the heart-strings would always find themselves drawn into the story. I loved it being about the kids, about success and about the way kids overcome adversity. I was on a role, and my young 5 year old helper was a smashing hit, I made sure of it.
Sadly, I was completely unaccustomed to the importance of political dignitaries. Basically, I failed to understand the significance of their presence as it related to the funding, publicity and importance their role plays in the ongoing workings of a non-profit school. Their presence was about future dollars!
Basically, they were ignored.
And the Crowd Dispersed
Yes, there were photos with them at either side of my little pal and I holding the golden shovel, but they were just a stand in presence to what should have been a more significant role. What a wonderful media gift it would have been had I known the best part would have been giving those politicians the shovel and asking them to take the first dirt with their new little 5 year old friend and stepping back to let them!
Then I forgot to properly thank them, I took my little 5 year old over to the play area the event team had set up and I talked about the kids, with my little friend sharing his laughter and heart with the crowd. Oh the media loved the little guy – and I was asked for interviews later (which I never do well as cameras intimidate me) and those politicians went on with their busy day, wondering why they’d been called to attend in the first place. Talk about poor political moves!
In the end, the Development Team deemed the event a success, as they did get some much needed media attention, the cameras moving to the main school to shoot additional footage. They never once commented on my faux paus or political immaturity, but I am sure words unsaid were thought. Conversations around, “how do we keep MLA so-and-so here for a bit?” and other comments I heard as the crowd milled about in smaller groups made it obvious, and I grew increasingly aware of what I’d just done.
What’s the Desired Outcome?
Leaders, managers, employees all function under a layer of expectation and understanding. Some of the expectations may seem obvious to their bosses, but not to them. By asking the question, “What’s the protocol here?” gives them an opportunity to truly understand the expectations being placed upon them.
Basically, all meetings, all gatherings and all activity needs to lead to a desired outcome or outcomes. Some of those will be assumed. Some of us will be so entrenched in our duties we will fail to see the importance outside of our typical actions. We need to always be asking – what is the desired outcome, what is my protocol in this situation. Many a problem could be avoided, especially in terms of media communication of we knew that.
Change Management includes a strong definition of desired state for a reason, we want all activities to lead to the desired outcomes we are trying to achieve. Without a clear understanding we will be involved in changes that will be less than successful than we had planned.[PostFooterP]