Rick Miller featured in Thomson Reuters, Buyouts:
With private equity in the spotlight of political controversy, industry executives have a chance to get their message out, but only if they can connect with the 99 percent at a human level, says executive coach Rick Miller.
The problem is not unique to buyouts pros, but is common to senior executives in many industries, says Miller, the president of Morristown, NJ consultancy Choices & Success LLC. “I think they as a group are chastised for not being good listeners.”
The buyout business, however, starts at a disadvantage, because members of the public were unaware of the industry until political opponents started assailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his career at Bain Capital.
“They didn’t know about it before. Now they are seeing it for the first time in a harsh, perhaps untrue, light, and they’re entering the conversation cynical,” Miller said. “People aren’t interested in listening to the facts, often, until you reduce their level of cynicism.”
In public presentations or on television, breaking through those barriers may involve taking off the suit jacket and necktie, as Romney has done on the campaign trail to reduce the level of formality. Likewise, in smaller groups or private meetings, executives first must listen before they can be understood, Miller said. “Communication is the joint construction of meaning.”
That can be as simple as directing one’s assistant to hold phone calls during a meeting, said Miller, who has worked in environments both corporate—he is a former president of global services at AT&T—and countercultural—he served as CEO of a dot-com startup during the Internet bubble era a decade ago. “And let’s be clear about how much time we have. If you think we have an hour and I think we have half an hour, when that half hour is up, you’re just getting into it and I think it’s over, you’re going to feel the tension.”
Body language, engagement, eye contact, vocal tone, posture—many factors beyond words themselves influence the way that encounters succeed or fail. The simple act of checking your Blackberry during a meeting can send a crucial signal to others in the room, he said. “For a lot of senior people, we’ve been told multitasking is a good and necessary thing. I would tell you it destroys potential relationships quicker than anything else.”
The irony is that senior players automatically seek to make those human connections when they are dealing with others whom they considertheir peers, Miller said. “The challenge is to remember that everybody is a senior player.”