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Published 10 September 2012 06:44, Updated 11 September 2012 06:12
In terms of getting other people to like you, there’s nothing like a dog. Photo: AP
I had a coffee with a corporate coach last week and he suggested there was a new market for retrenched journalists in “humanising” CEOs. And they certainly could do with some help in this country.
We have Gina Rinehart popping up in parodies all over Facebook in her pearls and diamonds, advising poor people to give up the ciggies and get out of the pubs. Then we have ANZ’s Mike Smith sitting on top of his bank’s pile of cash, wanting to drive down the unemployment benefit to get people back to work.
The gulf between those who have money and power – and those who don’t – sometimes seems wider than ever.
In social media land, the advice is to “be real”. Talk to people in a human, friendly voice and they will feel better about you, may forgive you and may even get to like you.
And who better to help you be authentic than your own hired wordsmith?
Actually, coach Peter Black’s suggestion isn’t as cynical as it sounds because leaders often are not good at projecting their own personalities and awkwardness can come across as wooden, colourless, remote, arrogant and seriously out of touch.
More times than I could count, I have heard stories about how uninspiring interview subjects are “a scream” among the people they feel comfortable with – and I just wasn’t able to see it.
Perhaps leaders do need their own image consultant whispering behind their ear “smile, say something nice, use her name when you talk to her”. A social coach could get them on social media, blogging, showing that they have a sense of humour, have moments of humility and bleed when they are pricked, just like the rest of us.
It would be all their own words, of course, but coached and sub-edited until they got the hang of being human.
Well, if hiring an out-of-work journalist (there’s a ready supply and I can provide contact numbers) is out of the question, here’s another suggestion: get a dog.
Don’t laugh. If it is good enough for Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull, it could do wonders for your CEO.
Last month, the Prime Minister’s office posted a picture of a smiling Gillard and “first dog” cavoodle Reuben welcoming visitors to The Lodge as part of the Open Gardens scheme. Almost 3000 people “liked” it. That’s not a bad start.
Shadow minister for communications and broadband, Malcolm Turnbull, is way ahead of the curve. He has a dogs’ blog where pooches get to write about their day and encounters with the honourable member for Wentworth.
When the family pet Mellie (Imelda) died late last year, Turnbull posted an eulogie for the Maltese Terrier: “Why do we love dogs so much? Is it because they are loyal and loving? Is it because they love us for what we are, without judgement? How can it be that in a world of so much human tragedy, so much momentous and terrible change, we shed tears over the death of a little white dog?
“Is it because, as Byron said, our dogs have all the virtues of man, without his vices?”
It was touching and very human.
Even Tony Abbott has been photographed with his family dog Maisie. Kevin Rudd outdid Turnbull, reaching out to children and their parents through a book about the adventures of his pet dog Abby and Jasper the cat.
It was the canny Barbara Bush who started the trend, “humanising” her husband, George Bush Snr, during his time in the White House by writing a book through the voice of Millie the pet dog.
Now, all this leads to the big question, the one that will start the most heated discussion in the office: why dogs and not cats? Well, this is an issue that has been debated for more than 4000 years since the Egyptians first decided they wanted a pet that purred.
In terms of getting other people to like you, there’s nothing like a dog. You can go for a walk with a dog and it is an instant conversation starter; a good dog is happy to see strangers and, if you need to get away, you just let the dog pull you away down the street: “Oh, we are off now! He’s too strong for me, who is taking who for a walk?”
Can’t do that with a cat.
The Americans, of course, have done research on the difference between cat people and dog people.
The team of researchers from the University of Texas found that dog people tend to be more social and outgoing, while cat people are more neurotic but creative, philosophical, non-traditional.
If you are a leader, which would you rather be?