Asking the Right Questions
Philippians 4 communications in the age of Twitter.
By A. Larry Ross
In a recent Dallas Morning News editorial, "The Elusive Big Idea," columnist Neal Gabler observed that burgeoning information has replaced bold ideas as the intellectual currency of our time. In the past, "We sought not just to apprehend the world but to truly comprehend it, which is the primary function of ideas," he wrote. "Great ideas explain the world and one another to us."
Gabler continued, "But if information was once grist for ideas, over the past decade it has become competition for them. . . . We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohorts. . . . while these ideas may change the way we live, they rarely transform the way we think."
How does a visionary leader overcome that insatiable desire for "information" and cultivate "ideas that inspire"? Perhaps the answer is found in comparing the communication styles of Twitter with the principles of Jesus in the context of Tony Romo - all uniquely counterintuitive.
Questions of Jesus
Any reader of this communications-themed issue of Outcomes would agree that the primary purpose of instruction is to convey information. But that was not the way Jesus led or taught. Instead he asked questions: But who do you say that I am? Why does this generation seek a sign? Do you love me?
For Jesus, it was less the answers given than the questions asked as he challenged followers on their faith journey and stretched seekers in their quest for truth. While connecting with individuals, he stayed focused on the big picture, casting vision by creating ownership of ideas among disciples, the downtrodden, even detractors. Their "Aha!" came in the discovery, which took longer but stuck once it sank in.
The Query on Twitter
As veteran Twitterati know, until recently the primary question answered by Twitter users' 140-character status updates was, "What are you doing now?" The focus is on activity, rather than being or thinking, which scratches our collective societal itch to stay informed, even if it is only to know someone's movie preferences or what they had for lunch. But from a leadership perspective, perhaps it begs the wrong question.
In many ways, social media has changed the communications industry in that we no longer publish primarily through traditional gatekeepers in the press: we now go directly to key audiences. In some respects, Twitter is a classic expression of Christian charity as one ultimately receives by giving. Though not the motivation, I am constantly amazed that when I share of myself in a tweet, I immediately acquire new followers. The same is true for any leader already communicating via social media, or for those who connect with colleagues or constituents through other communications platforms.
Considering the biblical injunction from Proverbs 23:7, "as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (KJV), Christian leaders today have unprecedented opportunity to share what they are thinking, or to pose a question to get followers thinking or executing in that direction.
There is much discussion in management circles today about "Servant Leadership," a philosophy and practice of achieving organizational results by giving priority attention to the needs of the colleagues one serves. My consultant friend, Pepper Bullock, and I recently agreed that what is really needed today is "Servant Thinkmanship," practiced by leaders who convey what they are thinking and, more importantly, what others need to know.
The Quandary of Tony Romo
Some leaders may be at a similar crossroads as was Dallas Cowboys Pro-Bowl quarterback Tony Romo after throwing three interceptions in a devastating loss to the Detroit Lions earlier this season. To improve, he needed to go beyond execution to right thinking. He had to transcend tactics and technique and move to vision and assessment, within which his team could improve their play.
In the ministry world, many CLA members have already made that same transition in their minds, benefitting from CLA's mission "to exhort, equip and empower Christian leaders to think biblically and lead effectively." Their challenge as they venture into the rapidly changing world of communications tactics and techniques is to express their thinking as Philippians 4 communicators, and to apply the filter from verse 8. Is it truthful? Is it useful? Is it edifying? Is it honorable?Tweet that.
A. Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based public relations agency that provides senior strategic counsel and cross-over media liaison emanating from or targeted to the Christian market. With more than 35 years of experience influencing public opinion, his mission is to "restore faith in media" by providing Christian messages relevant to mainstream audiences. He can be found on Twitter at @ALarryRoss or at ALR@alarryross.com.