Of Peacocks and Feather Dusters …

Of Peacocks and Feather Dusters …

If you consider how enduringly challenging the global economic climate remains, I’m sometimes struck by how easy it is to forget how blessed we are to be in gainful employment in an industry that can make a real difference. This was brought home to me recently when I was fortunate enough to be asked to talk at the Plank Leadership Summit in Chicago and, shortly after, to discuss the topic of leadership communication with the board of the Global Alliance in Lugano.

Both were enormously fulfilling both professionally and personally, involving, as they did, the chance to meet or re-connect with some remarkable people (Bill Heyman, Mark Schumann and Bruce Berger take a bow). And to be part of some genuinely important debates about the considerable relevance of our work as an industry in PR and leadership communication to many key issues of day (the inclusion of “A lack of values in Leadership” in the World Economic Forum’s recent 2014 Global Outlook and Top-10 Trends underlining this point).

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However, even more gratifying were two related events which shared a common denominator – they had little or nothing to do with me! The first was a quote from the posthumous recipient of a mentorship award, at the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations awards dinner in Chicago, about what drove him to dedicate so much time to mentoring up-and-coming colleagues in our industry. “Every peacock will one day be another feather duster.” Brilliant, simple, inspiring and sobering.

The second was meeting a young postgraduate PR student from the University of Alabama where the Plank Center is located. She thanked me warmly for the speech I had given, eloquently discussed her studies and experience to date, and said that she would love to hear of any opportunities at Ketchum. And then added that she was amazed I appeared able to remember what it was like to be embarking on those faltering first career steps and willing to take the time to talk properly with her about how best to go about the task.

Having been astounded, when starting out, at the occasional arrogance and apparent disinterest of a small number of senior industry players, I’ve always tried to make it a point of principle to find the time to share whatever experience I’ve gained with those embarking on that journey. Often I’m sure I fail horribly and, hopefully, at other times succeed. But I was hugely impressed with the mix of genuine humility and quiet confidence shown by that young lady. After all, if she can handle herself and me with such aplomb, I’d happily put her in front of a client, regardless of what pieces of paper she might have qualifications-wise.

On returning to London, I found that she had sent me her CV, together with an equally thoughtful, human covering note, and she is now interviewing with two offices in our network. Where the story ends is in the lap of the gods and, of course, that young lady’s own hands.

But I was genuinely struck by the fact that potentially helping that impressive student – who, I have no doubt, will go onto great things in our industry, at Ketchum or elsewhere – was far more gratifying than anything I’d done that week involving whatever direct contribution I can make personally.

And it got me thinking how easy it is, as we ascend the slippery career pole, to forget we were all once that Tiggerish graduate looking for that first break and that we have an obligation to avoid doing so – particularly as we reach the more senior stage of our careers. After all, we’ll probably work for that inspiring young lady one day!

My serious point is that no matter how dazzling and resplendent our current plume may be (or not!), we’ll all end up as that feather duster. And that in remembering where we all started, anything we can do to help the next peacock start to rise up to their full height is what this is actually all about. And it will be every bit as fulfilling as any short-term hit to our own febrile PR ego. So, strong note to self. Daily. Anyone else in?