Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A Navy expert: 21st century leaders need to communicate by listening as well talking

From a recent talk at the Naval War College by Rear Adm. John Kirby: The whole debate over strategic communications ignores the reality that we live increasingly in a participatory culture. People aren’t waiting to lap up our messages anymore. They don’t want access to information. They want access to conversation. They want to be ...

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From a recent talk at the Naval War College by Rear Adm. John Kirby:

The whole debate over strategic communications ignores the reality that we live increasingly in a participatory culture. People aren't waiting to lap up our messages anymore. They don't want access to information. They want access to conversation. They want to be heard. Ours is a post-audience world where we can no more control the narrative than we can control the weather.

What we can do is find ways to take part in that conversation, to inform it, even to guide it at times. But that requires a certain humility that I worry we don't always possess. It requires us to listen as well as to speak, to solicit as well as to inform, to be willing to admit of our own shortcomings and accept sometimes brutally frank feedback.

From a recent talk at the Naval War College by Rear Adm. John Kirby:

The whole debate over strategic communications ignores the reality that we live increasingly in a participatory culture. People aren’t waiting to lap up our messages anymore. They don’t want access to information. They want access to conversation. They want to be heard. Ours is a post-audience world where we can no more control the narrative than we can control the weather.

What we can do is find ways to take part in that conversation, to inform it, even to guide it at times. But that requires a certain humility that I worry we don’t always possess. It requires us to listen as well as to speak, to solicit as well as to inform, to be willing to admit of our own shortcomings and accept sometimes brutally frank feedback.

… The point is that I know my credibility — and that of the Navy — is enhanced when I endeavor to join a discussion rather than to lead it. That can be a hard thing for us to do, letting go of leadership a little. But in this brave, new world of instant communications letting go actually means getting ahead.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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