A White House Correspondent and Leadership

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This week’s show we are going to be talking to Susanne LaFrankie. Whether it’s deep reporting from the White House, media training for the Rocketts, or teaching MBA students at Wharton, Susanne LaFrankie uses the deep skills of journalism and communication to improve people’s ability to communicate clearly with precision. Susanne will share her insights on coaching for performance during this show. She’s a former ABC TV correspondent and is a communication consultant specializing in developing and implementing strategic communication and public relations strategies via traditional and social media for all audiences.

She is certified in the tool that Cathy and I like to use, EQi 2.0, and she coaches leadership teams to be more effective communicators by creating impactful content, story-telling, messaging, presentation, media training and crises communication management.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Today is going to be a lot of fun. She’s not only a fabulous communications coach, she is a friend, and we always have fun with our friends.

She is obviously, somebody who is very accomplished in her field. She worked at the White House as a Correspondent and she has security clearance to information that made her relationships much more effective than the average, I’ll say, White House Correspondent. As a White House Correspondent, she had the largest religious media network in the world, just millions and millions of people.

She established the White House Bureau. She managed crews and built relationships with both the presidential staff and the Secret Service. She did a lot of her reporting from the North Lawn. Susanne covered daily press briefings in the West Wing where she also wrote, produced and interviewed top-tier politicians for many, many, exciting and deadline driven stories.

Susanne covered congressional hearings, she reported from the U.S. Supreme Court and she provided most importantly, extensive reports on Pope Francis’ US visit to Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families. Susanne, it’s a pleasure to have you hear. Welcome!

Susanne LaFrankie: Cathy and Relly, thank you so much for inviting me. I feel just honored to be in your presence, and Cathy, I consider you a great friend, thank you so much.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Relly and I are so happy to have you with us. Relly I think you have an initial question?

Dr. Relly Nadler: Cathy knows your inside story, but we want to get a little bit of your inside story. Who have been the people who have influenced you the most in your life and career? It sounds like you have done amazing things surrounded by top leaders in the world. Who have been some of your folks behind the scenes?

Susanne LaFrankie: Behind the scenes, I would have to say, and I gave this great thought: my father comes to mind; Dr. Robert LaFrankie. He was a PhD, school superintendent. We moved a lot so I had to build new relationships every time I moved, much like an army brat.

My father was a bigger than life personality. He had high emotional intelligence. He could talk to anyone. He was compassionate, it was caring, and he always taught me that you can be anybody you want to be; you can do anything you want to do as long as you are persistent and believe in yourself. So he’s had a great impact on my life.

Professionally, I think the influences that I’ve had that have molded me are the countless people I’ve interviewed. Cathy mentioned Marco Rubio, or John McCain, or Carly Fiorina. I got the opportunity to interview Oprah Winfrey one time.

Also, the everyday people who had to undergo horrific experiences whether they be losing a child or those that are in a trial, victims of crime or John Hines plane crash. I used to have to go interview people 1:1. That really showed that ordinary people having to deal with extraordinary circumstances. It showed the courage that many people had to face on a day-to-day basis. So they molded a lot of how I view the world.

One person in particular, and I bring her up quite often, what First Lady Barbara Bush. I had a 1:1 sit down with her and she’s incredible. She was one of the most elegant, down-to-earth, interviews I’ve ever had. She had this ability to connect, she was totally herself, very conversational, and I often site her when I’m either teaching at the Wharton School with the MBA students, or executives. She was genuine and I think that that is what many leaders are lacking today and it’s a very important quality to have.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: When you think about all of the experience that you have had, Susanne, you think about the coaching that you do now; what do you think relates best to leaders that you are working with on an individual basis? What is the spirit of your experience that you bring to them that makes it possible for them to become higher performers?

Susanne LaFrankie: You know what I’ve learned and what I try to impart upon my clients is you have to be authentic. Authenticity is key. People today are so sophisticated when they seek communication. Some of it is due to the internet and social media and the 24/7 news cycle we are in. Case in point: we are looking at this presidential election. We have two outsiders who a year ago, people laughed at: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They appealing on such a wide level to so many people because they are authentic. Good – Bad – or Indifferent, they are real people. I think that business leaders need to know that they have to have a communication strategy that is part of their overall business strategy and they need to tie these core messages to their mission and vision. They have to believe their core messages.

I often tell my clients; if you don’t believe what you are saying, how do you expect others to believe you? So, people now can spot a phony a mile away. What we try to do is teach leaders how to use oral communication effectively and written communication.

What I like to do is do a mini assessment, a feedback on what areas they would like to improve and also people who bring us in tell us where they want to see leaders improve. We introduce the credibility model. 50% of leader credibility has to do with your honesty, if what you are saying makes sense, if you can back up what you say, and the other 50% is empathy. Business leaders have to put themselves in the shoes of the people they are leading.

Then generally, I put them on camera; pretty much cold. It’s pretty cool, so I promise that I won’t upload it on YouTube or anything, because it is hard. It’s hard to look at yourself on camera.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I’d like to go back to what you were saying around credibility. Can you highlight what your practice or business now, just to get an idea. You’ve done a lot of things.

Susanne LaFrankie: Browning Dudley is who I have worked for as a consulting firm for the last 18 years. What we focus on, it’s a small boutique organizational development company and I head up the communication aspect of it. I do a lot of executive coaching, speech giving, crisis communication which is huge. You hope to never use it but you have to have it in your arsenal because it can devastate a company and a brand, as we have all seen.

I focus on those areas. I help speech writing, speech giving, body language, verbal/non-verbal, and vocal delivery; also executive presence, which is becoming a growing area. As I said early, people are becoming much more sophisticated and they can spot when you are not being authentic and real and that really hurts your credibility tremendously and you can’t lead people if you don’t have credibility.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Say a little bit more about your credibility formula, because I love that. About 50% honesty and 50% empathy. I would think, honesty, I think we’ve got that, but I would imagine working on empathy—what do you instruct folks to do to kind of demonstrate and exhibit that empathy?

Susanne LaFrankie: Empathy is an area where you really have to get in touch with what is my audience thinking. I think leaders need to think about how what they are saying is going to impact their employees. Say you are going to introduce a new 401K plan or you are going to change the health policy. Healthcare has been a big issue, a big challenge for a lot of companies with the changes that have occurred on the federal level.

I think that executives really need to think about how is this going to impact people. I think in a lot of ways they have to not only use their social media, but that’s usually to influence outside forces and in some regard the intranet is how they communicate. But also, I think, have town halls. I think that you need to go out and almost act like a politician but a believable, authentic one and go out. Roll up your sleeves and do some stumping. Go around, talk to your employees, get feedback, listen to their stories and how these changes in your company are really going to impact these people.

There’s nothing that can substitute for 1:1, or I like to call it, the best form of communication is sharing a cup of coffee with someone. It has to be conversational. You have to actively listen. Much more communication should be about listening instead of speaking.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Susanne, as you think about going through the EQi certification recently, and the kinds of language that we are using here, as Relly would say, when you can name it, you can tame it. What is it that you’ve connected now that you’ve gotten inside the language of emotional and social intelligence that makes you a better, more savvy communications coach than you were before and how have you been thinking about applying this in your work?

Susanne LaFrankie: I wish I had become certified 20 years ago. It’s given me such insights as to how unlike our IQ our emotional intelligence is probably much more important. I’m happy that it can be improved upon. I think that is very exciting for executives to hear that and that making some changes in how you approach people, your action plan, and to really impact how effective you are as a leader.

I think self-awareness, to me, is key. It’s taught me to be more self-aware and how to not react emotively but to intellectualize whatever the situation is and to respond accordingly. You know the Harvard Business Review says: Leaderships first commandment is to know yourself. That’s how I think you can be a better leader. So going through the assessment, you really get to intimately know yourself, warts and all.

Be on your own side, as Cathy likes to day. Are you on your side or not.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: That’s Relly’s.

Susanne LaFrankie: I’m sure she quoted you, Relly.

Dr. Relly Nadler: I got it from someone else, but I’ve been using it for 20 years or more. You are on your side or are you on your case, as far as communication. Oh, okay, I’m either one side or the other.

Susanne LaFrankie: It’s simple, but true.

Leadership is a people business and emotional intelligence, I think, is the missing link. It helps us know ourselves and to know what our strengths are and our challenges. So, I have learned that self-awareness, to me, is the key. I try to be more self-aware than I was in the past.

Listen to the complete recording of the interview with Susanne LaFrankie, above.


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